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We should learn to embrace social media – not to fear it

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Over the last number of months, two of my Oireachtas colleagues, Deputy Pat Rabbitte and Senator Lorraine Higgins, have published two separate but similar pieces of legislation to regulate how we communicate using social media.

Ten years ago such legislation would have aroused little interest as the number of social media users in Ireland was quite small.

BY CIARAN CANNON, TD

Today however, that number is moving towards 2.5 million and for many of us our primary interaction with members of our local community is through sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Both Deputy Rabbitte and Senator Higgins have published their legislation in the belief that such legislation is necessary to eliminate the bullying and intimidation that sometimes occurs online.

I disagree fundamentally with this assessment and as a politician I believe it is important to express an alternative viewpoint.

A total of 60% of Irish adults use Facebook and of those, 70% use it every single day. Well over half of us in this country have taken the time to join the world’s largest conversation where a billion people interact in a way that simply wasn’t possible even five years ago.

Recent research published in the US concluded that 70% of teenage social media users say that social media made them feel better connected to their friends’ feelings and 68% of teenage users said that those online friends supported them through challenging times in their lives. Why is this happening?

From the dawn of humanity we as a species have sought to communicate with each other through whatever means is available to us. We always have and we always will.

From hunter gatherer conversations around campfires to communicating with Armstrong on the moon, from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, we have constantly innovated and found new ways of satisfying our need to reach out to others and to express ourselves as individuals. For now, social media is the pinnacle of our communication innovation.

But it is only that, our newest method of communication and it should be subject to no more and no less regulation than our existing methods.

Irish law is quite clear in this area, what is unacceptable in offline communication, is equally unacceptable online.

Where someone chooses to defame or incite hatred under an online cloak of anonymity, there are legal mechanisms to reveal their identity and pursue them using the full rigours of the law.

Dr. T.J. McIntyre, a law lecturer at UCD, has outlined on a number of occasions that the offence of harassment contrary to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 has already been used to prosecute online activity.

In each case, whether civil or criminal, there are already mechanisms to permit the identification of internet users accused of serious wrongdoing.

As politicians we have to be open to fair criticism. We are also mature enough to discern the difference between someone who wishes to express a passionately held opinion and someone who is just spewing spiteful bile.

If we are subjected to unwarranted abuse on our own social media accounts we do have fairly simple options open to us to immediately end that abuse, the “un-friend” and “block” buttons.

These options are no different to binning hate mail or hanging up on abusive callers, something right minded politicians have been doing for decades.

Some of the fear of social media stems from a misunderstanding of how social media works and that can be overcome through education. In particular we need to make people aware of the protection afforded to them by our existing laws and regulations.

However I believe that much of the fear arises from the transfer of communicative power from the few to the many, the democratisation of dissemination.

Anyone with a phone and a social media account can publish their thoughts to the world in a matter of seconds.

Whether those online ramblings are deserving of a Pulitzer or not is irrelevant, we all have an inalienable right to express our opinion.

There are some in the political sphere, both practitioners and media commentators, who are distinctly uncomfortable with this recent transfer of power. They are losing control of the “message” and feel challenged, now that the power to communicate with many is no longer the preserve of the few. Some calls for regulation of social media are well intentioned.

My fear is that those who would like to regain control of public discourse could exploit the genuinely held concerns of others to do exactly that.

After almost every major advance in communications technology there have been attempts to regulate the use of such advances because those who held the communicative power and its associated knowledge felt threatened by these advances.

The Catholic Church attempted to quell the learning revolution facilitated by Gutenberg’s printing press. It is estimated that before Gutenberg’s invention there were perhaps 30,000 books in all of Europe. Fifty years later there were over ten million and the futility of the church’s censorship efforts soon became apparent to everyone.

Less than thirty years ago, in Ceaucescu’s Romania, the humble typewriter was considered to be a dangerous weapon and ownership of that instrument of expression had to be licenced by the Romanian police force.

Thankfully we are now living in far more enlightened times. In July of 2012 the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution confirming that online freedom of expression is a basic human right.

The resolution says that all people should be allowed to connect to and express themselves freely on the internet. Coincidentally, Ireland became a member of the Human Rights Council in November of 2012

All politicians who value genuine freedom of expression, including the rights of those who wish to publicly question our actions, should resist any calls for increased regulation of social media.

We should encourage our colleagues to avail of a new and valuable opportunity to communicate directly with the people who elect us, the people who place their trust in us.

Why would we do otherwise?

  • Ciaran Cannon TD was formerly the Minister for Training & Skills at the Department of Education & Skills. He is a long-time advocate and supporter of Coderdojo, and founder of EXCITED – The Digital Learning Movement.

Connacht Tribune

School walkway remembers much-loved member of staff

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Minister Frank Feighan with Lucy Daly's family at the opening of Lucy’s Way (from left) Lucy's father Jackie O'Shea, her sons Niall and Aaron Daly, and her mum Florrie O’Shea.

A Galway school unveiled its new sensory walkway as a lasting memorial to its much-loved secretary who passed away earlier this year.

Lucy’s Way at Esker National School is named after Lucy Daly, and fittingly her sons Niall and Aaron were on hand to cut the ribbon with Junior Minister for Health, Frank Feighan, recently.

The Minister was at the Athenry school to also officially open the school’s new Outdoor Classroom and Sensory Gardens, as well as the Walkway – just as summer begins to bloom.

Also in attendance also were the Bishop of Galway and Michael Duignan; Monsignor Cathal Geraghty; Karen Cotter from Active School Flag, Andrew McBride from Healthy Ireland and Karen Colcannon representing Galway Sports Partnership.

The work was completed in a voluntary capacity by parents of the school, the local Rural Social Scheme and staff members with the support of school management.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

No room in the city – so college students told to look at Tuam or Athenry

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NUIG...accommodation advice.

Students coming to NUIG this September have been advised by the college to check out their accommodation options… as far away as Tuam, Oughterard, An Spidéal or Athenry.

Unfortunately, that is likely to prove as fruitless as searching for a flat in the city, because those involved in the rental sector say that there is very little available around the county either.

A trawl through accommodation websites reveals an extremely limited supply of rental properties across the county – particularly when it comes to those suitable for students.

And even when there is availability, you won’t find a one-bed property for much for less than €1,000 as the dearth of rental accommodation has resulted in owners demanding close to city prices.

Tuam auctioneer Michael Mannion said that there are very few properties to be had, and the vast majority of those that come to the market will not suit students.

“We don’t have them at the moment, and it is futile for NUIG suggesting they look at the likes of Tuam – or any other similar-sized town for that matter in the county,” he said.

“There is no problem about accepting students, but the houses and apartments are not there to accommodate them. There is no building going on and while this is the case, there are very few properties up for rent,” Mr Mannion added.

Student accommodation in Galway City averages out at around €1,500 per month which is putting a major financial strain on families.

NUIG recently advised students to consider seeking accommodation in Tuam (22 miles from the college), Oughterard (18 miles), An Spidéal (12 miles), Moycullen (8 miles) or Athenry (15 miles).

The NUIG Students Union described the fact that NUIG is recommending that other areas outside the city as a reflection of the current situation.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Government bows to pressure on rural work schemes

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Minister Heather Humphreys.

SWEEPING reforms to a number of local employment schemes – announced this week by the Government – have allayed fears among West of Ireland communities over the future of thousands of rural jobs.

A six-year time limit for participants in the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) has now been axed by the Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys – if that clause had remained, 45 positions in Galway would be cut from February 1 next.

The package of reforms has been warmly welcomed by West of Ireland TDs and public representatives including Minister of State, Anne Rabbitte and East Galway Fine Gael TD, Ciaran Cannon.

“We’ve all worked very had to bring these changes about, and at a time when it’s nearly impossible to get workers, these are common-sense measures which will mean an awful lot to villages, towns and communities across the West of Ireland,” said Anne Rabbitte.

According to Deputy Ciaran Cannon, the abolition of the six-year participation rule in the Rural Social Scheme was one of the central points raised at a huge public meeting in Athenry at the end of May.

“The Minister hopes to effect the abolition of the rule within a very short timeframe thus clearing the way for participants to remain working on the Rural Social Scheme up to retirement age,” said Deputy Cannon.

The reforms – confirmed by both Minister Humphreys and Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Tuesday – will apply to the RSS; Tús [a one-year community work placement scheme]; and Community Employment (CE) schemes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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