Dublin, 27 September 2019
ICCL is saddened but unsurprised to learn that Fiona Ryan and Jonathan Mathis, a mixed-race couple from Co. Meath, feel Gardaí are not taking their fears seriously after they were subjected to a vitriolic white supremacist campaign of abuse online. This corresponds to evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, which ICCL has heard over many years.
Amplification of Offline Harassment
Online harassment and harmful communications are a significant problem, which mirror various forms of structural exclusions present offline. Despite early predictions that online communications would provide safe spaces, we are instead seeing that the sorts of harassing behaviour meted out offline are actually being amplified online. Racist stereotyping, abuse and death threats can spread like wildfire with an easy series of posts and shares.
Free Expression for who?
While proponents of hateful speech frequently invoke their right to freedom of expression, there are in fact very clear limits to this right when it impinges on the rights of others. Indeed, hate speech of this nature can have chilling effects on expression by suppressing a person’s ability to speak due to hateful backlash.
In this case, the rights of Fiona Ryan and Jonathan Mathis to enjoy a private and family life, and to equality of treatment, are clearly impacted. Their right to freedom of expression is also curtailed because they are unlikely to feel empowered to express their identity as a mixed-race couple in the future.
Urgent Need for Review
ICCL has long been concerned that the Prohibition on the Incitement to Hatred Act of 1989 is not fit for purpose in our changed society or in the online sphere. We look forward to contributing to the public consultation on a review of this Act, and call for the review to be brought forward as a matter of urgency.