ALAN SHATTER BELIEVES legislation may be needed to curb online abuse as he launched a strong attack on those who post “venomous commentary”.
The former justice minister has become a prolific user of social media since he returned to the Fine Gael backbenches in May 2014, regularly posting about his work and his poetry on his Facebook.
While on Twitter he regularly criticises his constituency rival Shane Ross and Sinn Féin:
But in an interview with TheJournal.ie this week, Shatter was sharply critical of the abuse he, other politicians and ordinary citizens encounter online.
“I think we have a problem here. I think the problem is that instead of it becoming a sort of democratic space in which people interested, for example, in public affairs genuinely engage [and] share views, it’s become a focal point for vitriol, for abuse, for racism, for anti-Semitism,” he said.
He said that individuals who have “something really worth saying” find their views devalued and ignored because of contributors who post abuse.
I think unfortunately we have some people who, under the cloak of anonymity, feel free to give voice and comment and abuse and hate speech that they would never exchange with anyone in the street and anyone can be targeted.
He added: “The problem is this sort of venomous commentary, targeted at individuals, can have an appalling impact on the lives of vulnerable people.”
Shatter called on media organisations, including TheJournal.ie, to look at better ways of policing their comments sections.
“Not on the basis of censoring valid comments,” he added.
People must be able to express comments of difference, people are entitled to disagree entirely with anything I might say. But lets see if we can recreate that space without the abuse.
Last year, Labour senator Lorraine Higgins proposed legislation which would make cyberbullying and online threats a criminal offence.
Asked if he would favour such a law, Shatter said there may be a need for legislation, but added: “I think we have to be careful about legislation.
“There’s a balance to be found between freedom of expression of individuals and ensuring that this sort of space, in the context of social media [and] news media online isn’t abused and abused for racist speech, anti-Semitic speech, hate speech.”
Shatter added that he has stopped reading abuse aimed at him and has, through politics, developed “a very hard neck”.
There’s much more from our Alan Shatter interview on TheJournal.ie tomorrow evening.