IRISH MEP SEAN Kelly has said he believes the spread of the dangerous neknomination drinking game across social media highlights the need for European legislation to control and monitor websites like Facebook.
In an interview with Karen Coleman for EP Radio (listen here), the Fine Gael MEP said that this is “the downside of social media” but he has insisted in a follow-up statement this evening that he is not looking to “police” social media.
In his comments to EP Radio, he said “there’s kind of pressure on people across the world to follow suit and to get others to take part in this most dangerous game, as we’ve seen, downing certain quantities of alcohol at a great speed which doesn’t makes sense to anybody but that’s the way it is”.
Kelly’s comments follow the death of two young men in Ireland at the weekend – Ross Cummins and Jonny Byrne – which have both been linked to alcohol. 19-year-old Byrne’s family have pleaded with young people to abandon the game before anyone else gets hurt.
The MEP said action is now needed at a European level to address some of the dangerous behaviour taking place online.
The people who put up these social media sites I think they have to be monitored more closely, where they are seen to be damaging, or encouraging activities that are detrimental to people’s health and lives they have to be banned initially.
“It’s not just Facebook it’s all social media operators and I think we are going through the data protection regulations at the minute, they are almost finalised for this term but definitely.”
He commented that “this focuses the need to have stricter controls and stricter monitoring of sites” like Facebook and particularly where they are seen to have a negative effect, that they will have to move immediately to take the content down. He said this could be best achieved with an independent policing body which would order sites to remove dangerous content.
‘Not an attempt to police’
“There is no benefit whatsoever in this type of game to anybody and as soon as it appeared it should have been taken down and that would put an end to it and I think that’s what’s needed here at legislation level in Europe,” he added.
However in a statement to TheJournal.ie this evening, the former GAA president rejected characterisations of his remarks as “an attempt to police legal, though foolish, internet phenomena such as the practice of ‘neknomination’.”
“I believe that there should be strong and clear rules to counteract cyber bullying online, all the while respecting the freedom of the internet,” he said. “We cannot prevent cyber bullying through legal and police methods (we can do this through education and public awareness campaigns, which I have been active in organising), however we can come down strongly on perpetrators once they are identified.”
Kelly continued: “The internet is a great, free and open public space. We have benefitted as a society enormously from this freedom, but those who feel abused should have a legal remedy should they wish abusive comments or images to be removed from the online world. This is a delicate balance that we need to respect day in, day out.”
Since the news of the two deaths at the weekend, a number of spin-off crazes have started – with a difference. People have started posting videos of themselves doing good deeds and nominating friends to do the same. Ógra Fianna Fáil has launched a campaign to get people donating blood instead of filming themselves drinking a pint.
A young man who met Ross Cummins on the night he died is also raising money for Alcohol Action Ireland in honour of the 22-year-old DJ, by asking people to donate the price of a pint instead of necking it. He has pledged to stay alcohol-free until he raises €500.
- additional reporting Hugh O’Connell
First published 6.50am