Facebook has denied profiting from illegal or upsetting content online, telling a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice that it hurts their commercial revenues.
“I don’t accept the premise that we profit from this,” said Dualta O’Broin, head of public policy at Facebook Ireland. ”It’s the opposite, the advertisers don’t want their ads anywhere near this kind of content.”
Mr O’Broin was responding to an accusation from Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy that social media companies like Facebook were profiting from viral images of fatal motor accidents and live streams of murder sprees.
The comments came during a special session of the Joint Committee examining online harassment and harmful communications.
Facebook, Google, Twitter and the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland gave evidence on measures they are adopting to protect users online.
Executives from all of the companies denied that they were “publishers” like newspapers or broadcasters, arguing that their services facilitated live commentary and posts.
“We do not agree that we are publishers,” said Ryan Meade, Google Ireland’s government affairs and policy manager,
“But it is open to legislators to say that we are. But we would say you need to take that through to its conclusion.What would that mean for the open internet? We develop services on the basis that they’re open and they’re for everyone. On YouTube, there are hundreds of hours of video uploaded every minute. If we were publishers, we would have to monitor all of that beforehand.It’s open to legislators to decide that that’s what we should do but it would fundamentally change the service.”
Twitter’s director of public policy for Europe, Karen White, agreed.
“We do not consider exert editorial control,” she said. “Twitter is a live public service. We have no editorial control over any of the live content. That’s not to say we don’t take our responsibilities seriously.”
Ms White also denied an accusation from Fianna Fáil T.D. Jim O’Callaghan that social media companies were responsible for a rise in child sexual abuse material.
She said that recent research indicated that less than 1pc of child sexual abuse material detected was hosted on social media sites.
Facebook Ireland’s lead counsel for content and regulatory affairs, Claire Rush, admitted that rates of AI detection are lower for bullying than for sexual abuse content.
“It’s much harder to train artificial intelligence or machine learning to tell if a hateful slur is being used in a derogatory way or in a comedic, satirical or self referential way,” she said. ”So that’s why the rates of AI detection are lower for content like bullying.”
The Joint Oireachtas Committee hearing is taking place two weeks after the Taoiseach criticised Facebook for not removing intimidatory posts targeting executives at Quinn Industrial Holdings.
Leo Varadkar said that Facebook needed to review its standards after the tech giant ruled a post comparing the management of Quinn Industrial Holdings to the notorious Shankill Butchers did not violate its rules. For years Quinn Industrial Holdings tried to have the ‘Sean Quinn Community Page’ removed, but it was only taken down after the shocking kidnap and torture of chief operating officer Kevin Lunney.
There have been a number of high profile cases recently involving social networks being slow or uncooperative in removing defamatory or fraudulent posts.
Earlier this year, RTÉ broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan claimed that she had been defamed in a series of “false” and “malicious” adverts on Facebook and told the High Court that she intended to seek damages. The “false” ads first appeared on Facebook and Instagram in May 2018 and contained headlines wrongly suggesting she had left her job with RTÉ’s ‘Prime Time’.
Last week, Facebook and other social media networks became liable to be ordered by national courts to take down illegal, banned and defamatory posts with worldwide effect.
The landmark ruling from the European Court Of Justice means that Facebook and social networks can no longer say that they only have to remove posts when each one is individually notified to them.
And the online firms can also no longer limit the unavailability of illegitimate posts to the European country where the complaint was made, with Europe’s top court adding that the takedowns must have worldwide effect.