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The Brendan O'Connor Show on Auti, Radio one with all care pharmacy discover a team that's always here to support you at all care, taking care of communities across Ireland.


And joining me now is the managing director of Twitter Ireland and vice president of public policy for Twitter. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Asia need McSweeny.


Very welcome to the show. Brendan Schneid, managing director, Twitter. Erlinda is self-explanatory. What does the vice president of public policy in Europe, Middle East and Africa do?


So I lead a team across the region of people I suppose, that you could best describe as Twitter's ambassadors to governments, to regulators, to legislators. So we have the conversations with government about regulations. We do the parliamentary hearings that you will sometimes see when social media are called to to parliament. But we also, as well as talking to all of these people, we are also the ears. We listen to all of these people and are often the vehicle by which Twitter gets information back to engineers and product designers about something that's not working, are not working in the way in which we intended.


So we have partnerships with lots and lots of different safety groups, human rights groups, to make sure that we are constantly evolving to meet new challenges as they emerge.


So it's an interesting job right now. It's an interesting place to be at that intersection between social media and society. And it's interesting you use the phrase things aren't working as they're supposed to. Like you'd wonder sometimes is Twitter working as it's supposed to or as it was intended to?


Because I suppose you would accept that like we saw social media in the frame for the riots and the violence last week in Dublin, and its social media and Twitter are playing a big part in, I suppose, a kind of amplifying rancour in the public discourse and B, then in the straightforward spread of lies and misinformation, aren't they?


Twitter is an open public platform. So everything that's amazing and powerful about that fact that gave us home to vote in the Metoo movement and bring back our girls and all of these campaigns and activism also, of course, can be harnessed by bad actors for bad activities. So from our point of view, we see the power of the platform and we know that that power also brings great responsibility.


So, you know, in the context of what you mentioned specifically about the protests last week, I mean, we have policies designed to detect, coordinate what we would call coordinated harmful activity. On the one hand, anything that's going to lead to offline harm that's against our our policies underlying all of that. And I suppose driving the protests is separate from the actual call to action, is what she said about misinformation. And over the last year, we had already developed a misinformation policy directed towards elections, because that obviously is a huge concern if you have things like voter suppression or voter misinformation.


But over the last year, we have also had to develop really robust policies around covid misinformation, vaccine, misinformation. And there are two sides.


Is it? It is working.


We are removing hundreds and thousands of pieces of content from the platform. But also, in addition to that, we there there has to be a shift in the debate about online content that moves from a binary.


One of it either stays up or it comes down to looking at how is content amplified, how are algorithms working? And we often take an approach of down ranking are d amplifying bad content and promoting positive content. So in every single country in Europe, we have a relationship with the health authority. We have a relationship with the Hajazi here to ensure that when somebody searches for something about covid-19, what they see is the verified information that we have from government source medical sources to stand that up.


OK, I'm interested in a few things you say there. You say it's a public platform and therefore, I suppose you're saying a reflection of the good and bad in society.


But I suppose it is not a public utility or a public good. So it's not all of our responsibility to control it.


This is a private company with a lot of people who are very keen getting and got very, very rich from. So is it not your job to control that? It's not a societal issue, is it? It's an issue for Twitter.


It's it is our job. It is most definitely our job. It's our platform. We've seen the power of it and we recognise the responsibility that comes with that. It is not in our interests to have a platform that doesn't feel safe or where people can trust the information on us. It hurts individuals. It hurts. For our users, it hurts the community in which these conversations take place and ultimately it hurts the company.


So nobody on Twitter is sitting there going, you know, oh, let's let's see how much harm we can cause, you know, I believe I believe that you care about what I suppose what I'm asking Israel. Well, is like like can you control it like like like how have you built something? Has this company built something that has this enormous impact that it can't control? I mean, you can't sit in front of me hand in heart. I know.


And say that there is misinformation and rancour being propagated and facilitated on Twitter all the time.


And, you know, I can't say to you that it's not there all the time. But what I can say to you is through a combination of robust policies, changes within our product and investment in our enforcement, we are doing everything we can on a daily basis to manage that and control it. Do we always get it right? No, we don't. Are we always quick enough? No, we're not. But that doesn't take from the fact that we can't give up on the platform that has given us so much positivity, even in the context of Colvert.


If you look at the way people who were ended up isolated and living alone were able to stay connected to entertain each other, create, you know, social, social networks and connexions that were deprived of them, we can't give all of that up because a small minority of people have decided to abuse the potential of the platform.


And we as a company need to address ourselves to that. I don't accept that it is completely on us. We have a saying what happens on in the world happens on Twitter that's generally talking about football games are natural disasters are elections. But it also means that behaviours within society which are becoming prevalent also are reflected on the platform. And we do have a problem in this country about how we now engage with each other and the level of anger, the level of of rancour that has entered into political discourse, polite discourse.


We've forgotten how to disagree about issues like it feels like you're kind of saying, well, this is a social issue.


And we just reflected you know, I'm not saying it's a social issue.


I think it's kind of as well that I come from an old media situation, right.


Where you have to spend a whole lot of money and and a lot of resources thrown at not putting out anything that was irresponsible, that was fake, that might destroy some someone's reputation, whatever all these rules, you you have to do that because it's your platform and your response.


You do how it seems like saying, look, we do our best and you do do all of that. And I spent eight years working as a press officer in two police organisations. And I can give you endless examples where despite all of those mechanisms within media, despite all of that commitment, things were printed which were absolutely incorrect. They were not just incorrect, but they hurt people.


And so there's a and there was there's a mechanism there for people to get a lot of money from the courts to get those mechanisms exist for us as well.


And actually, the whole discussion that's going on now, right across Europe and and here with the online harms is directed to how do we find that balance between freedom of expression and safety? Because freedom of expression is meaningless if people don't feel safe or if they're silenced by others abusing their expression. But we have to find a system and that we're working with government here. We're working in Brussels to find that system that achieves that balance, that it's not just governments deciding what people can say online, and it's not just companies deciding what people can say online, because we have trusting the freedom of expression thing.


Right. There was a kind of an illustration of it there, I think, with an unclear barring. The other night, Lucchinelli was talking about young female scientists in the UK who are, you know, speaking in the media about covid, about vaccines, about that kind of thing.


And I think we all agree that science publicly has done an amazing job in it over the last year in keeping us all informed and keeping us kind of maybe less anxious and whatever.


Right. He said that they are being abused horribly on Twitter, these young female scientists, and that the point of it is, as he sees it, is to stop them from talking out. So there's there's your two sides of freedom of speech. Somebody is free to do that. And you guys obviously can't stop everyone in time. And then that's impacting on other people's feeling of safety to speak out.


And that that is that is a concern for us. And that is something that we have dedicated ourselves to, particularly in the last few years. I joined Twitter almost nine years ago where I think we. Seriously, over indexed to freedom of expression, whereas in the last three or four years, there's been a move to looking at, well, what's the overall health of the conversation? And freedom of expression is meaningless. If other voices are silenced, our people are afraid to speak up.


So what we are looking at and what's Jack Dorsey has talked a lot about is what is the health of the public conversation? What are the universal the protocols that we need to build to facilitate healthy public conversation? And he has spun up a whole separate piece of work separate from Twitter called Blue Sky, which is looking at creating that protocol, of which Twitter is like our platforms, like Twitter can be built and new platforms as they emerge, which has as its underpinning that overall universal standard for what a healthy public conversation should look like.




This week, there was an interesting happen, in fact, Dennis Egan, the CEO of the Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board, referenced it last night when he was on the news, everyone talking about the cardinal issue that Cardinal Law is OK, regardless of what anyone thinks about what he did. Right. There was a due process situation in place in the in the horse racing industry. Obviously, people are entitled to their opinion on it and everything.


But that Dennis Egan said that really what Kornelia got was like wrongly abused all week. And I mean, look, that's one example.


But we both know that there are people routinely all the time have their reputations, lives, careers trashed and destroyed, you know, before they even have a chance to react on Twitter.


Yeah. I know. I know. That this happens across all platforms, Twitter being an open and public platform, we it is much, much more visible and we, you know, abuse and harassment have have no place on Twitter, as I've said to you, are our policies are have evolved. They're far more robust within the product itself.


We have things like conversation controls, people can mute and block, etc. But I do also think we can have all of those things and we can continue to play a game of whack a mole across the Internet trying to just about these people down.


Yeah, but. And this is not an abdication of responsibility.


I'm speaking as a citizen as much as the vice president of public policy, we have a problem in our society right now with the levels of anger, the degree to which people get angry about stuff, our inability to allow people to make mistakes and move on from them.


And that is something that is far more worrying to me as a as a mother and as an agent of of young people and the kind of world they're going into social media is is I do believe what we're seeing in social media is a symptom of that that does not take away from our responsibility to deal with it. I am not giving it as an excuse, but I am saying there is a problem. And we actually as a company, we work with UNESCO, we work with spun out here.


We've worked with educators here about building programmes for young people around digital literacy, digital etiquette, how to behave online. Maybe we need to roll them out for adults as well. But there's there's definitely a sense, particularly as so much of our life has moved online, that we need to start thinking about, you know, counting to 10 or taking a breath before we type in the same way that we might take a breath before we, you know, shout at somebody in a queue in the supermarket.


Listen to speaking of someone who probably doesn't always count to ten before they speak out in terms of Donald Trump, did Twitter, did Twitter, not facilities the the riot that happened in the Capitol Hill in January?


Again, I go back to the fact that Twitter is an open and public platform. I mean, Donald Trump stood on a podium in the middle of Washington and gave a speech that was carried live on multiple networks. Twitter's role in supporting and kind of enabling the democratic process and really enabling voters to connect with leaders and hold leaders to account is incredibly powerful.


And as such, world leaders being on Twitter is a critical part of that. However, there does come a point where those world leaders and the value to democracy or the newsworthiness of having them on the platform is outweighed by the potential offline harm. And that's what happened with Donald Trump.


Reason that Donald Trump was left there for so long was he was newsworthy. No, there are two elements to it.


And we we published our policy on world leaders, which was that people actually. Needed to know what the leader of the free world was thinking, be able to hold them to account for those views. So I think I actually don't like the word newsworthy because I think it gets bandied around to kind of cover everything from what people need to know to want to know the word.


Yeah, no, no. I know I used us, but in my head, it's something about information that is essential to the debates that we need to have as opposed to something that's going to sell a newspaper. Yeah, OK.


And you think that for for that four or five years before he was eventually censured and then banned, that that Donald Trump people needed to know all that stuff he was saying on Twitter up to then, not only do I think they needed to know, but I'm not sure.


And this has been the subject of some debate since that it is entirely on a private company to decide when the elected leader of one of the largest democracies in the world should or should not be on their platform or should or should not be heard.


And also, there's an extent to which Twitter's activity on Trump, Trump's activity on Twitter in some sense, is people people had more awareness of what Donald Trump was saying on Twitter by tuning in to news networks in the U.S. because every morning people out with the tweets, you know, so that's interesting.


You say you're not sure it should be up to you guys. And it's a thing we hear a lot from big tech, which is like a child that's looking for boundaries. You're kind of saying we want we want to be regulated more.


We want the state to step in because because there's an interesting then other side to the Donald Trump thing, isn't there, which I think was was articulated by people like ours live online and which is that why is a private company deciding when the president of America or the outgoing president of America should not be heard anymore and that that it's not up to you guys to make decisions about, you know, Democratic staff? Half of America voted for him. Who are you to shut him down?


And I have some sympathy with that view. I mean, I sometimes say if this was easy, it would be done already. The complexities of balancing rights of speech against safety and harm are as old as speech and the printing press itself. And but when I look at the region for, you know, that comes that comes within my remit, you know, I have everything from Ireland, UK, France, where we're having those debates about how we find that appropriate balance to needing to have discussions in Russia and Turkey, where there are overt efforts by governments to silence political opponents on our platforms up to and including blocking the platform.


So that's the spectrum that we're looking at.


Yeah, god, it's tricky and complicated, isn't it? But it's fun. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's a job. Yeah, yeah. I bet. Clear.


All that said, Trump was brilliant at Twitter, wasn't he?


Trump was one of the earliest users of Twitter. Trump was on Twitter like way back before anybody dreamed he might be president. He was a very clever and adept user of the platform.


Mm hmm.


Listen, leaving all that aside for I was looking at a TED talk that you gave back in.


I was in twenty sixteen. Yeah. Kind of from the area. Like, they changed a lot. Since then.


It has put in another way.


I thought that was kind of a timely message and it's like which was I suppose you were saying one thing you were saying is that which kids might need to hear right now is that the leaving search and the subjects you do and what you're doing, the leaving cert is not the be all and end all of everything.


Most definitely not like none of the jobs that I have done existed when I did the leaving cert. Yeah, that's then that's the reality of it.


And so it's more about skills, particularly now because. You know, there's so much information everywhere, not necessarily knowledge, but, you know, we need to give people skills and competencies around how to analyse, how to engage with people, how to get results. It's not just about knowing stuff.


Yeah, I know all that stuff we've just been talking about. The information is there, as you say, what you like, what you you were suggesting. And that is that I think you had a priest who kind of encouraged you along with that critical critical thinking is what we need to give the kids.


It's sometimes strikes me we're educating them for the past, aren't we?


I think there is an element that I have seen changes. I mean, you know, I haven't I haven't had experience of the secondary school system yet, but I do have a sister, actually, who's a secondary school inspector. And I know from talking to her the degree to which the psychology around education has changed in this country.


Yeah, it's interesting then that the jobs. So you started with the question, what are you going to be when you grow up?


And of course, you couldn't have imagined any of those things. As you said, you weren't for the PSNI then then the guard and then then into Twitter, into Twitter then was a bit of a leap, was it?


It wasn't.


It wasn't in some senses. I had I had done police comes for want of a better word for a long time.


And it's hard. You know, you you know the people who.


End up being the subject of a day's work in in a police press office are people who, you know, there are there are at a difficult time in their lives. You know, something horrible has happened to them, generally speaking.


And I think you can only do that for so long.


And also, we had the visit of Queen Elizabeth the second and President Obama, and we had opened the door to traffic account to try and get our public information. And it was a huge success. And I just became really excited at the idea that there was this medium for communicating broadly and widely with people with important information. And then Twitter opened its operation in Dublin and we're looking for somebody to do public policy, which gave me the ability to step back a little bit from communications and dealing with media and go back to, I guess, all the skills that I had developed around governments and lawmaking, et cetera.


OK, OK, listen, she made a lot of people, you know, it's been it's been a sad couple of years because you lost your husband. He. Sorry he died.


You know what? I don't like that phrase either. I know. And I'm sorry I was being super polite there. I know.


And it's partly because I have a child. So it's really important that we use the right phrases.


But there's also an element of we have a sign in the house at home which is like nothing is last until Mommy can't find us, which is true every day. But it's like he's not lost. He's gone.


It's not OK. He's not going back. OK, I'm so sorry. And no, I'm not it's not a correction.


I just think and everybody has their individual hang up about words so other people don't like the word dit. It just feels it feels definite. But for me, I think it's important to say he died.


Yeah. Yeah. So people will remember your husband.


He was no reelin, very well respected barrister, a writer and activist as well. Would you call him.


Yeah, definitely. In the last five or six years, I think his approach to politics changed very much like he was. I mean, obviously, I met him in party politics. We were both involved in Fianna Fail at the time. I mean, I think we both left Fianna Fail behind us maybe 15 to 20 years ago. I think his politics in in recent years were very much centred around justice, equity, impact. You know, he had this constant sense of that.


We were both incredibly fortunate to have come from, you know, you know, we worked hard for was for what we achieved both in education terms and in career terms.


And how do we give back, you know, how how can we have an impact on other people's lives? So things like the marriage referendum, the the Eighth Amendment, but also saving the Senate. And, you know, he had the Kennedy Summer School down in New Ross because he wanted to give something back to New Ross. And he was also somebody that like no matter who sent him an email or dropped him a line and said, would you have half an hour and want to talk about my career or I want to talk about an idea I have, ah, I have a legal problem.


And he would always do that. He always had time for people. Yeah.


And he was fantastically, robustly engaged and everything was neat ideas, everything. Like I knew him from kind of in here I suppose. Yeah.


Everybody knew him from in here. I think it was in here more often than he was at home sometimes the weekend.


And listen, it was funny as well, because you don't you know, people can have certain stereotypes about people who come from a funeral like gene pool are that he became then, I suppose, really a kind of a hero of the WOAK kind of generation, didn't he?


I don't think it's about Wolke generation.


It's about rights. It's about and about people being able to be themselves in society and freely and openly, like he just had this really highly tuned sense of justice. And, you know, he had actually written about things like civil partnership and and gay marriage long before there was a referendum. Like if you go somebody actually where you recently went back through columns and kind of went, oh, you know, I thought it was a Johnny come lately to this issue.


But he wasn't he had actually been writing about and some of that came from his legal practise as well.


In terms of that sense of people who just weren't getting a fair crack in society.


He was also like I had a brilliant strategic mind in terms of like he knew that these campaigns, like marriage equality, was not about preaching to the converted. He knew that you needed to talk to, you know, that he's out there in Australia and he knew he knew how to knock maybe over.


So the message. Yeah, yeah.


But he loved he loved campaigns. And again, in the last few years, like, it wouldn't matter what party you were if you came looking for advice about how to run a campaign, like he would just get so excited and gofers. I think probably when the last party events that he spoke out was a Sinn Fein event before he got sick. So. That's that was the that just the level of excitement that the and also a dedication to politics and I think our politics is in trouble.


You know, there is yeah, there's a disdain and a distrust for politics, which ultimately is not good for us as a society.


He wasn't sick for long, was he?


Three months. You know, he was diagnosed in April 2019 and he died in July. So he was in Vincent's actually for most of that in St. John's Wart, who are absolute heroes. And he got home maybe two or three times just for a night or an afternoon across that. We had a lovely afternoon on Dunlea Pier actually at one stage as well. But yeah, it was it was short and and sharp, I guess, in the end.


Yeah, I think we often miss people in kind of a more it can be a more muscular way than than people think like like, you know, in practical ways.


You must think over the last year of what, how he would have handled all of this or what he would have thought.


Yeah. I mean we yeah we do, we do talk about that a lot. I mean, there's in a sense to which, like Noel had only been dead six months when Lockton came. And I have this sense of that in some senses it exacerbated the grief. And then in other senses, I think it has put it on pause because I don't know, people talk about going back to a normal life, but I don't know.


We hadn't formed that life.


Yes. Myself and myself, we hadn't figured out what life is without Noel. So I guess we're still working towards that.


And I really feel for people who have had loved ones die during Colvert because at least we had a funeral. We had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. And it was incredible.


And like, I don't know if it helps, it helps hugely.


And I, I just feel for people. And you talk about the muscular thing like it is still a physical pain.


Like there are moments where it is actually a physical pain where you find yourself just like holding holding your heart because it really, really hurts.


Yeah. Listen, your boss, Jack Dorsey, seems like a fascinating character. I've kind of been a philosopher, a wellness guru of sort of remeasurement.


Yeah, I've met him a good few times. Like Twitter is actually a very small company. We like we have this huge brand, but we're a really small company like we employ globally.


We employ less people than some of our competitors employ just here in Dublin alone. But so so the impact of that is that, you know, we actually have we all nearly have have access to to leadership.


He's been in Dublin three, three times, I think. And obviously, I would see him in San Francisco. And now, you know, we get to see everybody on, uh, on screens.


So, yeah, I have met him. He's very he's he's he's quite introverted, but he's really, really thoughtful.


And he he places a huge emphasis on learning, you know, just constantly learning and ensuring that we are a learning organisation because we know we have a lot to learn. We're not done.


Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. The textures feel you have to learn as well. Just a couple, actually. This is an email, right? Your guest says Twitter is a public platform. It's a private company public facing. What's the difference between what Twitter does and putting a giant poster along the same Brendan O'Connor is.


And so you would not allow the latter, but you can do it on Twitter at the click of a button.


The issue is consequences. There are a couple of elements to it and you. As I said, we have policies against abuse and harassment. There are different ways in which those are enforced rather than, you know, some of it will be that somebody will be suspended or rather than have you either on Twitter or you're not. We we also have things like time outs trying to change behaviours. But obviously some of this is so egregious that you would not go down that road and you would have a straight suspension.


We then have other aspects of behaviour on Twitter, which are bad behaviour, which may not breach. The rules are made are not illegal where we don't rank them. So in some sense. So when I see something directed at me on Twitter, I will look and and say, OK, so who is this person? How many followers they have? Do they have? And then I think about, you know, if I just ignore them, they're still just talking to their five followers.


Whereas if I engage with them or if I retweeted and say this terrible thing is happening on Twitter, well, now I've introduced that person to all of my followers. So there's an extent to which.


A lot of the material, yes, needs to be actioned, needs to be deleted, and the users need to be off the platform, but then there is another level of content that nobody will actually ever see if we don't amplify it.


And that's the way the Internet generally is going, because this sense of trying to remove content from the Internet is like it's just this ever, ever filling a hole that we're never actually going to dig ourselves out to.


So that's why things like algorithmic transparency and looking at, OK, what kind of content is being pushed into people's. Is it the right content and what shouldn't be getting up to fight? So there's there's an extent to which I guess you could say people do have a right to say things, but they don't always have a right to be heard.


Yeah, look, it's it's going to be a it's an amazing job you have and it's going to be challenging and fascinating, I think, for all of us to see how all this pans out over the next 10 years or whatever this massive experiment. Listen, going back to know so many nice texts about you and about and all but one person from Wexford, what a great, strong lady. A formidable force, just like her colossus later has been known.


Reelin are proud and very much Mr. Rexford meant someone else as a very nice thing. I don't know if you can miss a stranger, but I miss no reelin. That's that's Mary Rose.


All right, listen, Schneid McSweeny, managing director of Twitter Ireland and vice president of public policy in Europe, Middle East and not forgetting Africa. Thank you very much.


Thank you, Brendan. Brendan O'Connor on our TV Radio One.