Internet giants Google, Facebook, and Twitter have rejected suggestions they should be held to the same standards as media publishers and broadcasters, and denied profiting from graphic material such as the live-streamed shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The companies appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality to discuss how to tackle online harassment and harmful communications.
Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy told the companies that he believes they should have the same liabilities as publishers when it comes to the regulation of harmful or offensive content.
“You've more impact on the world today than probably all of the broadcast media and all the print media combined together. And yet, for the purposes of making profits, you want to have no obligations to that, apart from to say "we'll take it down" when the damage is done,” he said.
Ryan Meade, Google Ireland’s government affairs and policy manager, said TDs need to consider the impact on the open internet if they wish to apply the same rules to internet companies as they do to publishers.
“For example on YouTube, there are hundreds of hours of video material uploaded to our services every minute. If we were to be considered publishers, each of those would have to be reviewed before they appeared on the platform. Now, it will be open to legislators to say that is a requirement. But fundamentally, it would alter the availability that service,” he said.
“Just because we don't consider it appropriate that the regulation should be the same for publishers as for platforms, doesn't mean the platforms can be regulated,” he said.
Karen White, Director of Public Policy at Twitter said the platform does not consider itself a publisher.
She pointed to Twitter’s removal of abuse, illegal material and terrorist-related content as examples of the work it does to tackle harmful content.
However Mr Brophy said this only strengthens the argument that Twitter is a publisher.
“That's where you blur your own line every single time with this, because you make editorial content judgments every time you do one of those in the same way that a newspaper or a broadcast organisation does when it transmits. And yet, you say you're not a publisher,” he said.
Asked the same question, Dualta Ó Broin, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy said: “We provide a platform for over two billion people so that they can put their views on the internet, so we wouldn't consider ourselves a publisher for user content”.
Mr Brophy said social media features such as live streaming has been used to broadcast the shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and that companies are generating profits from these same features.
“I just can't understand morally, how people are comfortable with defending not having a liability for that,” he said.
Mr Ó Broin said he does not accept the premise that Facebook profits from the live streaming of violent incidents on its platform.
“In actual fact, it would be the opposite, and we hear it all the time from both our advertisers and from our users, they do not want this type of material on their platform, and the advertisers don't want their advertising anywhere near this type of content. And we are extremely serious about removing it,” he said.