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Cyberbullying

'We can’t have a law that excludes things just because somebody’s offended'

Communications Minister Alex White has spoken out against proposals from some within his own party to legislate against cyberbullying.

TheJournal.ie / YouTube

COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER ALEX White has said he is not convinced of the need for specific legislation to deal with cyberbullying – despite two of his party colleagues proposing a new law earlier this year.

White said he had not heard a convincing case that there should be a specific law to curb abuse and threats made against others on the internet. He said there have been prosecutions brought under existing law.

Earlier this year, senator Lorraine Higgins, who was threatened online that she would be hatcheted in the face, proposed a bill that would make it a specific offence to share any message that incites someone to self-harm or take their own life.

If found guilty, a person would face up 12 months in jail or a fine of up to €5,000. White’s predecessor, Pat Rabbitte, also proposed similar legislation in the Dáil.

screenshot.1449761050.46194 www.thejournal.ie www.thejournal.ie

But speaking to TheJournal.ie, White was sceptical of the need for such legislation:

In recent months we’ve seen circumstances change a bit where the DPP has successfully brought these prosecutions. So I would not be certain that we need to change that law.

He said the Law Reform Commission is currently undertaking a report into the issue and is due to publish its findings early in the new year.

The Labour TD said there would have to be a “very strong case” for restrictions.

alex white

“My default position is for freedom of expression, with certain limits obviously – defamation, threatening behaviour, all of those things,” he said.

“If we’re satisfied that those laws cover all these things I don’t think we need to change those laws. I’m on the side of the greatest possible freedom of expression subject to ensuring that people are protected, particularly children.”

White said the notion of offensive material has always been problematic, going back to a time before the internet even existed. He added:

Sometimes the giving and taking of offence is part of public discourse. We can’t have a law that excludes things just because somebody’s offended.

Read: I’ve seen more than my fair share of abuse online, but Lorraine Higgins’ bill isn’t the answer

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