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The Communications Committee for the Oireachtas – Ireland’s legislature – met yesterday to create anti-bullying legislation in a wake of teen suicides. Ireland, like many countries, is struggling to find ways to keep young people safe on the Internet without imposing censorship. Senator Eamonn Coghlan suggested charging users for their tweets, posts and comments while creating an Irish registry that matches passports with IP addresses. The Irish senator has since come under ire for his comments from businesses and teenagers alike.
With Irish Internet users registered by passport number and ultimately billing information, anonymous hate comments would decrease and prosecution of cyber bullies would become easier. Bullies that don’t mind exposing their identity would have to limit their comments to whatever they can afford. Paying per comment would also provide revenue to Ireland’s economy. While a balanced budget and less hate in the world may seem like pluses, there are several reasons this wouldn’t work.
First, the Irish government would have to rely on full compliance from Internet companies like Twitter and Facebook. Free social media services – along with any blog, website or forum – would want to distance this legislation from their own policies. They would create disclaimers on their site that paying to post does not reflect their beliefs and is mandated by the Irish government. They would also have to create ways for only Irish users to be charged and no one from other countries.
Next, a law would have to affect every website that enables commenting or else it would unfairly target social networks. Even legislatures wanted to single out Twitter and Facebook, the law would have to be updated constantly as social media popularity evolves. How much use would a censorship law be that only targeted Friendster? The government’s best bet would be to work with Internet browsers and eventually providers. Their partnership would create “comment plans” akin to text and calling packages made by mobile phone carriers. Instead of 2,000 texts a month, you might get 2,000 comments a month with rollover posts available.
If a law did gain traction and go into effect, it would have ripple effects across the world – especially because it was started with a country in the European Union. The EU is already trying to set precedents with other no-nonsense cyberlaws and it could consider following Ireland’s suit for creating anti-bullying laws.
As well-meaning as this law may be, it’s simply not the government’s place to tell companies what they can and can’t charge for. A law that affects tech giants has trickle down effects throughout the economy. This means businesses both large and small that rely on social media for their marketing, agencies who provide social media services and investors in tech companies will lose money.
All lot of these opinions are taken to the extreme and Ireland is not going to destroy the global economy with an anti-bullying law. But the comments made by the Communications Committee showcase the ebbs and flows of Internet legislation. Politicians (from any country) are stuck using old world politics for new world problems. They’re trying to decide if Internet legislation should become a State’s issue (or a country issue in the EU) or should we have global regulation?
We may not have the answers to end cyber-bullying and solve all the Internet’s problems, but one this is clear: hatred of bullies, trolls and spammers is universal.