The comments sections of the social media of the national broadsheet newspapers have been become ‘cess pools’ of racist and anti immigrant sentiment, Cork County Councillor Gearóid Murphy told a meeting of the local authority.
llr Murphy proposed a motion calling on the Irish Times, the Irish Examiner and the Irish Independent to ‘moderate their social media platforms so as to reduce racism, xenophobia and misinformation in the comments sections under their posts.
The Fianna Fáil councillor and barrister said that Ireland’s proud record of never having had a far-right party gain widespread popular support stood apart from many European countries and attributed this to our strong democratic tradition.
“I fear that the days of this proud record may unfortunately soon be numbered,” he said. “if you go onto the official Facebook page of a national broadsheet – any national broadsheet – and scroll down to the most recent article with any sort of bearing on asylum seekers, immigration or Ukraine, and click onto the comments – you will see a cesspool of racism, xenophobia and misinformation.”
He said while he had been noticing the growth in far right commentary on social media in the past number of years, particularly, he noted, since the campaign to release Ibrahim Halawa, who was arrested during a protest in Egypt in 2016, but that the phenomenon wasn’t new.
“Racism and xenophobia on the official Facebook pages of national news outlets have reached fever pitch,” said, remarking that he had seen this on the social media pages of the national broadsheets, which is why the motion was concerned with those titles.
According to Cllr Murphy, the national media outlets have not been doing a sufficient amount to combat this misinformation. “At best – I believe they have buried their heads in the sand – and at worst – they might even be indirectly benefitting from the divisions which are being stirred up in the form of increased traffic to their pages, whether they know it or not,” he said, pointing to the common knowledge that controversial stories drive traffic on social media and not good news.
“I have rarely if ever seen an article about refugees where the comments have been turned off, or where xenophobic comments have been removed by the page admins.
“As far as the commentary from the national newspapers is concerned, it is only very recently that I have seen any real effort to address in their editorials some of the misinformation which has been allowed to be freely disseminated on their own social media pages.”
He said that anti racism or anti xenophobia shouldn’t be the preserve of the left wing parties or the opposition and called for unity and solidarity on the issue. “There are many times in politics when it is best to be pragmatic, not to cause a fuss and simply not to stick your elbows out,” said Cllr Murphy. “This is not one of them.”
Several councillors spoke in support of Cllr Murphy’s motion, some of them pointing out the difficulties being faced by the traditional print media as social media attracted more advertising spending.
Cllr Anne Marie Ahern, seconding the motion, said that while articles were being published by reporters on social media to provide information, the end result .of that was the incitement of misinformation and bullying.
“How quickly an article spreads, how quickly hate from an article spreads – it can happen in a matter of seconds, not minutes, not hours, not days.
“It’s retweeted, it’s circulated – it is inciting behaviour that none of us wants to see,”
SInn Féin Councillor Danielle Twomeny described Cllr Murphy’s contribution as eloquent. “We all see what’s going on, on social media, on the accounts of the news media,” she said.
“I do think they have a duty of responsibility and care relating to what exactly is going on their page.
“Social media platforms have a role to play here as wel – why is this being allowed?”
Cllr Twomey said that a lot of the accounts seemed to be fake and suggested that the misinformation that was being published was having a spiralling effect.
Summing up his contribution, Cllr Murphy said that social media platforms should also be written to along with the national newspapers to get their response to his request for stricter moderation policies on the comments sections of their social media platforms.