The Hate Speech Bill could be a “useful tool” to combat the far-right online, Tom Clonan has said.
After the Dublin riots, the Trinity Senator and security expert said his posts on Twitter got a lot of traffic but many were “very dark” and “very threatening”.
“Over the weekend, I had an individual tell me that he was going to hit me across the head with a claw hammer,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
“I haven’t really seen that level of vitriol and explicit threat [before].”
The controversial Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill is being considered by the Oireachtas.
Opponents believe it will lead to an authoritarian clampdown on free speech but Senator Clonan believes there is merit in the legislation overall.
“The new Criminal Justice Bill on Hate Speech, which would clamp down on hate speech as it applies to certain categories, that’s going through the Houses of Oireachtas at the moment,” he said.
“I think that could be a useful tool but we do need to amend legislation to get better definitions of what constitutes hatred and what constitutes threshold.”
'Hate speech drives a lot of traffic'
At present, there are thought to be 12 far-right groups in Ireland that are active online and Senator Clonan wants tech companies to be more proactive in tackling them.
“They [the far-right] use the algorithms of social media, whether that platform be X, Meta or Instagram,” he said.
“They know that conflict and hate speech drive a lot of traffic, get a lot of traction and with that comes revenues, of which those platforms get about 30% of the cut.
“So, what the committee is recommending is that those social media companies - which are headquartered in Dublin - that they basically sign up to a code of practise where they more proactively curb this hate speech and disinformation on these platforms.”
'We have legislation for that already'
Senator Clonan also cautioned against “knee jerk reactions” - such as calling for new powers and weapons for the Gardaí.
Instead, he feels the State should look at increasing Garda numbers.
“I think we have to be really careful because breaking into Footlocker or setting fire [to something], we have legislation for that already,” he said.
“It’s a matter of enforcement.
“In relation to An Garda Síochána, we had a population of four million, we had 14,000 members of An Garda Síochána back then.
“We now have a population in excess of five million and we don’t have the proper numbers.
“So, it’s about putting adequate resources in place.”
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Main image: A bus burns just off O'Connell Street Bridge in Dublin, 23-11-2023. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.