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Twitter to be challenged by TDs over racist comments which forced Ryan family to leave Ireland

Meath couple Fiona Ryan and Jonathan Mathis spoke of death threats they received on the Late Late show on Friday.

Image: RTÉ

MEMBERS OF AN Oireachtas committee which is meeting with representatives from Twitter is planning to challenge the company over its handling of the online abuse received by Fiona Ryan and her family on its platform. 

Meath-native Fiona Ryan (33), her fiance Jonathan Mathis (32) and their 22-month-old son Jonah said they were forced to leave Ireland after appearing in an advertising campaign for supermarket chain Lidl. 

They were subject to a number of abusive posts which contained racist comments about them on social media. It escalated to the level of death threats, Fiona said, speaking on the Late Late Show on Friday night. 

Today, members of the joint-Oireachtas committee are meeting with representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Google to discuss online harassment, and to look at the steps these companies are taking to address hateful content on their platforms.

TDs have said they will question Twitter representatives about the abusive comments directed at the Ryans and how they were allowed to be posted on its site in the first place. 

“I will absolutely be asking, and I’ll be challenging them on the slow pace at which they remove very alarming content – the fact that family was considering leaving their home in this country because of hatred that came from a social media platform can’t continue,” said committee member and Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers. 

“That cannot continue, and I think anyone that witnessed their experience will want to see these companies move to change, or be forced to change.” 

He added: “The reason we’re looking at this is because it is a new legislative and policy space because of the growth of these tech companies.

“We’re meeting with them to go beyond their current approach which is that they simply facilitate what they perceive to be a community model rather than being more responsive to the content that they host.”

During the Late Late Show on Friday, presenter Ryan Tubridy read out a tweet from the account of former Irish Independent journalist and unsuccessful presidential candidate, Gemma O’Doherty. It said, “German dump @lidl_ireland gaslighting the Irish people with their multicultural version of ‘The Ryans’. Kidding no-one! Resist the Great Replacement wherever you can by giving this kip a wide berth. #ShopIrish #BuyIrish.

Many Twitter users replied to that post, directing racist and insulting comments towards the young family. Fiona Ryan said she “felt like we needed to leave” after some of these comments escalated to death threats.

Chair of the Oireachtas committee, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described the comments as “disturbing” and said social media companies must “demonstrate a willingness to now work with legislators to ensure that we have appropriate protections in place”. 

“I hope that out of the Ryan’s very courageous exposure of this on the Late Late last Friday night. there will indeed be measures undertaken, and that the Government and social media companies will recognise a need for working together to address this fault line in the social media sites.

“Protections apply to the broadcast media and different aspects of communications here in this country.

“Yet in this instance there seems to only be a reliance on their willingness to self-regulate and at the end of the day, they have demonstrated time and time again that their efforts are simply not fit for purpose.”

Today’s meeting is the second in a series of four committee meetings which will seek to address the prevalence of online harassment via social media platforms. 

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