Ireland’s media watchdog, Coimisiún na Meán (Media Commission), headed by executive chairman Jeremy Godfrey, has voiced concerns about online “misinformation” and the possibility of foreign interference in the upcoming local and European elections. However, this stance has raised questions about the potential for overreach in online censorship in the country, especially as it has come to light that Ireland considered censorship plans over the recent backlash to the stabbing of a child caused heated arguments and riots over the nation’s immigration policy.
While discussing these concerns with the Irish Examiner, Godfrey emphasized the importance of preserving the integrity of elections and civil discourse. Yet, this focus brings to the fore the delicate issue of how far regulatory bodies should go in controlling online content without infringing on free speech and the right to information.
“I suppose from around Thursday lunchtime, we first found out about the stabbing incident,” Godfrey said. “And we decided that this was something that we needed to do something about.
“Our concerns were firstly there might be imagery of the incident itself that could circulate online. It could be damaging if children saw it, and damaging to the relatives of people who’d been hurt, and could actually result in the identification of a suspect. All those things are to be avoided.
“But then we were also worried that it could become a lightning rod for the incitement of hatred against ethnic minorities or incitement to violence. That is absolutely illegal content that will definitely fall within our regulatory remit.”
Godfrey’s additional concerns about “hate speech,” particularly against women in public roles, point to the complexity of regulating online discourse. While the intention to protect individuals from harmful content is clear, elsewhere such regulations are being used to suppress dissenting voices or controversial viewpoints.
“We will be monitoring all the wide range of obligations in the online safety framework, but how platforms deal with hate speech is going to be a high priority,” Godfrey said.
Coimisiún na Meán’s collaboration with the Electoral Commission to mitigate these risks may be seen as a move towards more stringent online content regulation. This perspective is further reinforced by Godfrey’s recount of his organization’s intervention during the Dublin riots last November, where they monitored online speech related to a violent incident. This intervention, while intended to prevent the spread of harmful content, can also be seen as a step towards greater control over online expression and controlling the public’s access to truthful information.
With Coimisiún na Meán’s plans to significantly expand its workforce and assume greater regulatory powers in 2024, there is growing concern about the potential for increased online censorship under the guise of public safety.
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