No date set for online safety guidelines in Ireland

Internet safety guidelines for Ireland will be published soon, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, as he and other leaders met to discuss a crackdown on online abuses.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland was well-placed to help make a difference by helping to stop those “corrupting” the internet, with so many giant tech companies based in the country.

But he ruled out shutting down sites or forums such as Facebook Live following its use during recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand.

He was speaking as he and other leaders met in Paris to consider ways to stamp out hate speech and abuses on the internet. The meeting, hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, was in response to the terror attack on mosques in Christchurch in March, during which 51 people were killed.

Declining to give a specific date on promised cyber safety guidelines in Ireland and progress setting up a cyber safety commissioner post, Mr Varadkar said there would be developments on these shortly.

He said he was in Paris to promote the internet, but also said that we do much more “to crack down on people who would abuse the internet to promote terrorism or violence or hate”.

He said the internet helped to “connect the world” and “break down barriers”.

“But it can also be a very dangerous thing and we want to stand together and fight against those who corrupt the internet to spread terrorism, to spread hatred or to promote violence,” he added.

Asked about a perception that Ireland was slow to take action because it hosts so many large tech companies, Mr Varadkar said:

Ireland is a small country, but when it comes to internet safety, we can have a role precisely because we are the European headquarters for so many big tech companies.

Nonetheless, he ruled out shutting down Facebook Live, following pressure to act since the New Zealand attacks. Instead, he said, there may need to be arrangements to temporarily stop sites or similar forums more quickly in future.

“We do need to be able to put more protections in place, being able to shut things down more quickly if they promote violence or hatred or extremism,” he said.

“Really I think what is required is more safety mechanisms or protections rather than absolute censorship. I think we need to balance freedom of speech on the one hand with the need to ensure safety and minimise harm on the other.”

Meanwhile, five of the world’s largest tech companies have agreed to introduce new measures to their businesses to help eliminate violent and terrorist content from the internet.

Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter have agreed on a nine-point plan of action following a meeting with world leaders and tech firms in Paris named the Christchurch Call to Action.

In a joint statement, the tech companies said they would each take individual steps to improve their policies on violent content, as well as increase collaboration in order to fight the spread of such content.

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