The Irish government has been criticised for not doing enough to make the social media giant Facebook, which is based in Dublin, remove violent and racist material reported by users.
Critics have suggested that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s government is more concerned with the 2,000 jobs Facebook has created and the cachet of having one of the world’s largest companies in Dublin.
But a Channel 4 expose screened last week appears to have prompted the Irish government to harden its language about the company and to threaten potentially huge fines.
The Channel 4 Dispatches documentary Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network revealed poorly paid moderators at Facebook were being instructed not to remove even the most sickening violent content because it is hugely profitable for the social media giant.
The programme sent a reporter to work undercover as a content moderator for Facebook at its Dublin headquarters. It revealed that, contrary to popular belief about rates of pay at one of the world’s wealthiest multinationals, Facebook pays its moderators as little as £18,000 ($23,400) a year to sift the most disturbing material on its site – some suffer stress and trauma as a consequence – and binds workers to the strictest of nondisclosure agreements.
The programme said thousands complained of posts, including depictions of violence and harm against children, and self-harm, are still live on the social network.
The furore surrounding the documentary’s revelations – and comments by the company’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg that he will continue to allow untrue claims on the social media platform – prompted Mr Varadkar to change his public comments about the firm. He had earlier expressed confidence that tech giants such as Facebook and Google were well attuned to their obligations of child safety.
In a change of public tone he suggested last week that Facebook be now be fined by the Irish government for failing to remove violent and racist material reported by users.
Mr Varadkar said Ireland “is willing to consider” fines for online companies such as Facebook that fail to “uphold basic standards of decency”.
He said it now appeared Facebook had not lived up to its own “community standards”.
Mr Varadkar said any fines would have to be “commensurate” with the profits of the company to cause them to change their behaviour.
“Facebook has community standards and we expect them to uphold their own standards. The evidence produced by Dispatches is that they haven’t on all occasions. That would represent, in my view, a failure of self-regulation,” said Mr Varadkar..
“We need to hear a response from Facebook and an explanation from them as to why they haven’t upheld their own standards.
“Now we have to examine legislative mechanisms, whether we can bring in a system of fines to ensure that companies such as this uphold basic standards of decency.
“A hard thing to do: it is the world wide web, but that’s something we definitely need to examine,” the Taoiseach told reporters.
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