It’s time for action on WhatsApp – Brophy

-   Colm Brophy TD

The spreading of misinformation, graphic images, fake news and defamatory comments via the popular messaging service, WhatsApp, has become such a serious issue that legislators can no longer ignore it, Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy said.

This week, An Garda Síochána, had to publically ask people to stop sharing images taken at the scene of a fatal road accident on the M50 in Dublin out of respect for the victim and family. The image was widely shared throughout Ireland on Thursday via WhatsApp.

Deputy Brophy said this is only the latest incident of serious problems and issues with the Facebook owned WhatsApp service.

“This week alone, family and friends who have to come to terms with the loss of a loved one should not have to hear that voyeurs are sending images through WhatsApp.

“We must have modern rules and regulations for social media that respect human decency and the privacy of other individuals. If traditional media can abide by this and have socially accepted boundaries in which they operate while still providing all with a public service, social media companies must also.

“They are publishers and have to be responsible as do those who use their products and services,” the Dublin South-West TD said.

“This week alone through WhatsApp, we have had voice messages with false information relating to public figures circulated. It is wrong and has to be tackled by legislators.

“Victims of alleged serious assaults have had their social media pictures circulated with accounts of their ordeals to such an extent that private individuals have had to go public and say they are the victims of fake news.

“In the past, members of An Garda Síochána, have had videos of them carrying out their public duty, edited and shared to cast an unfavourable light upon them. What implications does this have for WhatsApp or those who post such content? None. This has to change,” Deputy Brophy said.

“The way we interact and communicate with each other is changing immensely every year. Our laws must do likewise.

“In a bid to stop the viral spread of false information, WhatsApp is limiting the number of times a user can forward a message, to five. Why is not tackling false information? If it provides a service to spread news, it has to be held to proper standards.

“While WhatsApp messaging groups have proven to be extremely successful and helpful to community/sports or working groups, how it allows irresponsible content to be shared widely is not good enough.

“I’m aware that my colleague, Hildegarde Naughton, Chair of Communications Committee, is looking at ways in which social media companies can be held to account on an international framework. I will be discussing this issue with her and raising my concerns with her and the committee,” Deputy Brophy added.

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