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From hate speech to misinformation: why social media is not the problem

Tuesday 12 March @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm


Room 5052, Arts Building, Trinity College, University of Dublin

Living Freedom ‘University Salons’ are for all students (and academics) keen to explore and debate ideas. A short talk is followed by plenty of time for questions and discussion.

The event is free but please register via Eventbrite.


From Hate Speech to Misinformation: Why Social Media is Not the Problem

Advances in digital technology and social media mean each of us can now share more information and opinions more widely than ever before. But many worry that new digital culture fuels hate speech, online harms, fake news and identity driven polarisation. Speaking after recent Dublin riots, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said that ‘people have been radicalized through social media over the Internet’. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has vowed to ‘modernize laws against hatred’ claiming legislation is ‘not up to date for the social media age’.

Some question the extent to which new digital technologies are really the problem. After all, just over a decade ago, social media was celebrated for the power to share ideas and drive positive political change, for example the Arab Spring or the re-election of President Obama. A recent report found that majorities in most countries surveyed believe that social media is good for democracy. But on the downside, the same report revealed European democracies and America are now least likely to evaluate social media positively.

To what extent are the technologies celebrated for transforming our communications also responsible for our descent into echo chambers, toxic filter bubbles and demonising those with whom we disagree? Does social media threaten productive exchanges of ideas and our potential to develop a shared worldview and even a shared reality? Irish Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly admits that hate speech legislators ‘are restricting freedom’ but asserts they are ‘doing it for the common good.’ Is she right to assert that such legislative action is required? Or should we instead look elsewhere for both the root of the problem and the solutions to social strife in an age of digital culture?


journalist, writer and broadcaster; author, Technology is Not the Problem (2024)
Timandra Harkness is author of Technology is Not the Problem (forthcoming, Harper Collins) and Big Data: does size matter?  She is a regular on BBC Radio, writing and presenting BBC Radio 4’s FutureProofing and other series including How To Disagree. Her BBC documentaries include Divided Nation and What Has Sat-Nav Done To Our Brains and she has written for publications including the Telegraph, Guardian, The Sunday TimesMen’s Health and Significance (the journal of the Royal Statistical Society).

convenor, Living Freedom; author, The Scottish Question



This event is organised by Living Freedom and Dublin Universities branch of Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF).

Living Freedom University Salons are supported by the Ian Mactaggart Programme, established to foster a culture of open debate, independent thinking and free expression among young people in the UK, especially students. It is administered by the Free Speech Union.


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