Cllr Gearoid Murphy.

Cllr: Media must moderate comments sections

The days of Ireland’s proud democratic tradition may be numbered if national news outlets don’t tackle racism, xenophobia and misinformation in their social media comment sections, a Cork County Councillor has claimed.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Gearoid Murphy is calling on some of the country’s most widely read newspapers to enforce stricter moderation on their Twitter and Facebook pages, particularly in posts related to anti-immigrant protests currently taking place in Dublin and elsewhere in the country.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of Cork County Council, Mr Murphy said racism and xenophobia on the official Facebook outlets of national news outlets has reached fever pitch in recent months.

Cllr Murphy said: “If you go onto the official Facebook page of any national broadsheet and scroll down to the most recent article with any sort of a bearing on asylum seekers, immigration or Ukraine and click onto the comments, you will see a cesspool of racism, xenophobia, Putin apologism, and misinformation.

“This is a phenomenon which I have been following over the last number of years and unfortunately it's not a new phenomenon. An early example of this would have been the deluge of misinformation and vitriol with which the public were flooded when Ibrahim Halawa was campaigning for his release a few years ago.”

Cllr Murphy pointed out that his motion was not designed to restrict the press itself in any way but simply to moderate the comments of third parties.

He also said social media have “changed the rules when it comes to public discourse” and in the wrong hands can lead to disastrous results.

“I believe in freedom of expression and in particular the right of the press to report the news without fear or favour. However, all freedoms have limits, all rights need to be balanced and weighed against the rights of others und ultimately the fundamental architecture of the state which underpins and guarantees all rights. The far right and the misinformation it has been disseminating has the potential to be existential threats to these rights and indeed to the very architecture of the state,” said Cllr Murphy.

He went on to highlight the fact that social media companies also have a role in moderating the content allowed on their platforms but that this should not let those who maintain those pages off the hook.

“We need to realise that these pages are operating within a system which is very different from anything which has previously existed, a system which often accentuates differences, creates an echo chamber for those with certain view points and pigeonholes and polarises its audience,” he said.