Varadkar to write to tech firms about lockdown protests

1 Mar 2021

Image: Conor McCabe Photography

The Tánaiste said he was concerned over how social media platforms have been used to organise demonstrations that violate Government guidelines.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he will contact the large tech companies over how their platforms were used to organise last Saturday’s anti-lockdown protest in Dublin.

Hundreds of people gathered in the city centre on Saturday (27 February), in violation of current public health restrictions, to protest lockdown measures. The scene turned violent after one protestor launched a firework at Gardaí. Several were arrested and charged.

The Irish Times now reports that Varadkar is concerned about people organising protests and demonstrations on social media that violate Covid-19 safety measures.

“This ranges from organising gatherings and protests, to encouraging people to open their businesses before permitted to do so,” Varadkar said. He did not single out any one platform.

Groups involved in organising the protest on Saturday and fuelling calls for businesses to open their doors during lockdown have frequently used Facebook and other major social media platforms to organise.

“What we saw on the streets of Dublin this week cannot happen again. I’ll be writing to the digital platforms to press them on their responsibility to moderate and remove content that encourages such behaviour,” Varadkar said.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have faced much criticism in recent years over their handling of conspiracy theories and disinformation shared on their platforms.

During the pandemic, anti-lockdown content and misinformation about the virus and vaccines have run rampant online, while the platforms have been used to organise protests and rallies, including the January attack on the Capitol in the US.

In Ireland, the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is currently making its way into law. The bill, which transposes a set of EU rules on online content moderation, will establish a regulatory framework for addressing illegal and harmful content shared online, especially when it comes to user-generated content.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin