Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris Alamy Stock Photo
Social Media

Simon Harris says 'ability to spread disinformation' on social media is 'very serious issue'

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said at the weekend that he is worried at the level of “hate and bile” being aimed at migrants on social media.

MINISTER SIMON HARRIS has said there is a “very serious issue” in relation to the ability to “spread disinformation and undermind democracy” on social media platforms.

Harris was echoing comments by Tánaiste Micheál Martin over the weekend in which he said he is worried, in the wake of the Dublin riots on Thursday, at the level of “hate and bile” being aimed at migrants on social media platforms. 

Garda cars, a bus and tram were set alight, shops damaged and looted and officers attacked during violent scenes, which involved far-right elements.

It came shortly after three children and a women were hurt in the stabbing attack outside a school in the north city centre.

The Irish Examiner reported that Martin also took aim at Elon Musk’s X, formerly Twitter, for not cooperating with dealing with such material. 

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Harris said he “fully agrees” with the Tánaiste. 

“I think there is a very serious issue, not just in this country, but in western democracies now in relation to social media platforms, which I use, which I appreciate and which have great value, but also when wrongly used having an ability to spread disinformation and undermine democracy,” Harris said. 

He said by the first quarter of next year, there will be a “legally binding” statutory online code in relation to the removal of information that is deemed to be disinformation. 

“There’s no need for any law or any commission for these companies to be called out when they don’t step up to the plate,” Harris said, adding that he would “share the Tánaiste’s comments in relation to X”. 

The Minister said he would “absolutely defend” the right to free speech, adding “it’s the cornerstone of all democracy”.

“What we’re talking about here is the spread of disinformation and the spread of hatred. And I simply wouldn’t be, nor would I wish to, but I wouldn’t be allowed to in this studio. The social media platform is a form of media, it is a media platform and therefore I think there are real legitimate questions around the rules that apply online,” he said. 

Speaking about the violence on Thursday night, Harris said: “What happened on Thursday was the most despicable, horrific attack on democracy, on our city and on the institutions of the State, and it will be met with a full response and there will have to be a review.”

Harris, who previously served as justice minister, said there had been a “very significant conflation” of issues and the riot was not just a “far-right gathering”.

He said: “We had the horrific, despicable attack on children and care workers on Parnell Square, and we think of all of them; we than saw a far-right gathering, if I may call it that; we then saw absolute opportunistic criminality and thuggery.”

He added: “I don’t think we can conflate each of those issues.”

Harris said the scale and speed at which Thursday’s events unfolded was unprecedented and unforeseen: “It happened in real time. It happened in rapid speed and the gardai responded and responded in force.

“But it is also fair to say that the far right have been trying to sow division in this country and communities right across the country for a significant period of time.”

With reporting by Press Association