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Anti-lockdown protest highlights need to combat misinformation online, says minister

“The problem is that a lot of this information is put up very quickly, a lot of this information is hidden.”

Image: Shutterstock/Maria Savenko

MORE NEEDS TO be done to identify and tackle misinformation shared online, a government minister has said.

Following an anti-lockdown protest that turned violent in Dublin city centre yesterday, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said today that the government needs to address the spread of misinformation and disinformation on social media.

Gardaí were aware of the protest ahead of time and identified the risk of violence from monitoring online behaviour.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week, McEntee said that “we need to really look at the type of information and misinformation and disinformation that has been put out there”.

McEntee said that gatherings like yesterday’s are “now organised moreso online” and that the gardaí are “doing a huge amount of work to try and preempt these types of events”.

“There’s a number of things I think we need to look at – firstly, how do we work with the social media companies to make sure that information that is incorrect is taken down,” the minister said.

“My own part is working with the gardaí to make sure that they have the legislation or that they have the means to infiltrate or to essentially identify this type of activity that’s happening online that is spreading hate and spreading division,” she said.

 The key challenge to tackling the misinformation online is the speed that it is shared with, McEntee said.

“The problem is that a lot of this information is put up very quickly, a lot of this information is hidden, we need to try and find it,” she said.

“The gardaí have a huge amount of support from not just my own department but others to make sure that they can identify this information – where it’s coming from, who exactly it’s targeting.

We need to make sure that those who are responsible for spreading this type of hate -and it is hate – disinformation, and encouraging this type of violence on our streets, putting people at risk, that they’re not allowed to do so and that these platforms don’t give them an opportunity to do that.”

23 people were arrested at the protest, 13 of whom were later charged at a special sitting of Dublin District Court last night. 

Around 500 people took part in the demonstrations, which saw three gardaí injured. 

One garda required hospital treatment for their injuries from the protest. 

The protest was violent at times, including when fireworks were thrown at gardaí from a close distance.

A statement from An Garda Síochána detailed that gardaí were targeted with fireworks, missiles, and spit.

McEntee said that investigations into the protest are continuing and that a number of fixed penalty notices have already been issued.

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“This was not an essential journey for anybody,” McEntee said. “This was an illegal gathering.”

“Anybody who thinks that there was no consequence to turning up to one of these kinds of events, that’s simply not the case. Anybody thinking of turning up to one in the future, there are consequences here,” she said.

“We’re all frustrated with Covid-19, I’m frustrated, you’re frustrated. However, we are not taking to the streets, and attacking members of An Garda Síochána who are doing everything to keep us safe.”

“What happened yesterday was gardaí were intentionally targeted and hurt. This is not about a frustration. This is something different.”

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