Varadkar wrote to social media giants about illegal gatherings during pandemic


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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has written to four of the world’s biggest tech companies asking what more they can to tackle illegal gatherings and the spread of disinformation during the pandemic.

Mr Varadkar sent letters to Facebook, Twitter, Google and TikTok following violent protests in the streets of Dublin earlier this year.

He said the events were “clearly planned” using social media platforms and private messaging services and he was “appalled” by what had happened.

The Tánaiste said this behavior of “a few egotists” had undermined the sacrifices millions of Irish people had made in the previous year.

He said he was “a strong supporter of free speech” but was a well-organized “conglomeration of anti-mask, anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown groups” using technology to get organized.

In responses to Tánaiste, Facebook said it was also “appalled” by the violence and deeply appreciated the efforts of the gardaí, health workers and other frontline workers.

The social media giant said an internal investigation took place after the protest, resulting in the deletion of 20 Facebook groups, 15 pages and two Instagram profiles.

This was done when groups, pages or profiles had “repeatedly shared harmful information and debunked allegations about Covid-19 or vaccines,” according to his letter.

In a response letter, Google said it took the issues in Tánaiste’s letter “very seriously”.

However, he said his services were not “currently known to be favored” for organizing demonstrations or illegal events in Ireland.

He said: “We have not been informed that our services have been used for the purpose of organizing the recent protests in Dublin.”

Google also said it is committed to removing Covid-19 content and disinformation that harms users of its platforms.

The company also offered to host a discussion and workshop for the Tánaiste and his team on how they deal with harmful content.

“Withdrawal” measures

In Tánaiste’s letter, the creation of a new online security commissioner was also pointed out to reduce the “spread of illegal and potentially harmful content”.

Mr. Varadkar said the government wanted timely and effective “opt-out” measures and a way to add new categories of harmful content.

In response, Facebook expressed concern about delays in passing legislation governing online activities and a possible “conflict” with European Union guidelines.

Facebook said the government should consider prioritizing and speeding up implementation of the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive.

And they also suggested that the government consider “suspending national online security measures” to ensure Irish and EU laws are aligned.

Google said it supports the legislation and continues to engage with the government to help move it forward.

He said: “The passage of this legislation will be crucial in tackling harmful online content in the future and we look forward to [its] rapid adoption.

Asked to comment on their cases, a spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media is now leading the new online safety laws and that requests should be addressed to him.

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