Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the country would pass new legislation to crack down on racist hate speech online, a move that critics fear will erode free speech by making certain memes and other digital materials illegal.
The bill would give the government more power to prosecute individuals who post “reckless” comments or memes that “incite violence or hatred against a person or a group of persons,” Varadkar said.
But self-proclaimed free speech advocates, including X owner Elon Musk, warned that the legislation is so broad that it could be wielded against ordinary citizens.
The rioters had reportedly become enraged after learning that the suspect in a stabbing attack near the capital last Thursday may have been an Algerian national. That assailant injured at least three children and a woman outside of a primary school.
At least 34 people were arrested, including some who reportedly threw rocks at crowd control officers, the Associated Press reported.
Along with the hate speech bill, the government intends to pass additional legislation that would allow law enforcement to use facial recognition technology to identify individuals who participate in violent riots.
Varadkar said the legislation would help the country adapt to the “social media era,” adding that its current laws weren’t able to fully protect immigrants and other marginalized communities from violence.
“We need to be able to use laws to go after them individually.”
The government has insisted that the bill’s language closely mirrors current Irish laws, and that it would still leave room for dissenting opinions online.
“You will still be able to offend other people or express views which make others uncomfortable,” one recent version of the bill reads, per the BBC.
But critics say the government has offered little guidance about what constitutes “hate speech” — adding that even Facebook posts, tweets, and memes could run afoul of the new law, which would slap violators with up to five years in prison.
Meanwhile, Irish authorities have reportedly opened an investigation into MMA star and Irish citizen Conor McGregor over remarks he posted on social media in the aftermath of the riots.
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