I am grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter. I am disappointed the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources could not be present but I understand. I thank the Minister of State for attending in his absence.
This is one of the most important Topical Issue matters that I will table during the lifetime of this Government. I recently had a meeting with students from Lucan Community College in my constituency and I am happy that two of them, Orla Kenny and Katie Farrell, are present. I was challenged by them to examine, research and study the Neknomination phenomenon. As I said to them at the time, it was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life. I have never seen a four or five minute film that was so disturbing and I had difficulty containing myself in the seat while I watched it. When it concluded, they said: "Derek, this is not the worst by any means."
There is significant peer pressure on young people today. Neknomination is a Facebook game. It is a dangerous practice that has led to deaths, sickness, injury and increased psychological problems over the past few weeks. Friends contact each other through social media to make a dare and some of those who do not respond to the dare stand to lose their friends. The vast majority of young people in second and third level have many hundreds of contacts on their smartphones and tablets and there is continuous communication. Adults often communicate with each other through social networks from time to time but I have come to realise young people communicate continuously through them. It is a way of life for many people, particularly young people, and it helps to form relationships and communications.
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is on record saying it would be helpful if Facebook agreed to take the Neknomination page down.
I am calling for much more than that. I am requesting an intervention from the very top in order to deal with this new and dangerous practice. We have laws and regulations which are in the interests of people from different walks of life and which reflect the common good. I refer here to the laws relating to roads, licensed premises, etc. There is a need for social media to be regulated as a matter of urgency.
I welcome the fact that the Internet content governance advisory body is prepared to examine this dangerous phenomenon, which, as a result of online bullying, the issuing of crazy challenges, increased binge drinking and the performance of some of the most dangerous acts one could possibly imagine, is affecting the lives of many young people. I welcome the Union of Students in Ireland's campaign against this dangerous drinking game. I reject what Facebook has said to the effect that "controversial or offensive behaviour is not necessarily against our rules". I have a serious issue with anybody who adopts such an irresponsible position. Parents, teachers, students unions and those who play leading roles in our society all have a major part to play in stopping this practice by encouraging young people and detagging and unblocking their dares.
An eminent judge recently warned that if the current Internet drinking contest takes hold, there will be a tsunami of prosecutions before his court. I am of the view that the Neknomination phenomenon is one of the greatest threats to young people in modern times. I welcome the fact that some students have responded to it by launching their own campaign, RAKnomination, which involve people performing random acts of kindness. However, I am of the view that those involved have a challenge on their hands. This House must send out a message to the effect that it is prepared to provide leadership and respond to any threat or risk to members of society. Facebook must be regulated as a matter of urgency. It is not only the latter which has facilitated Neknomination challenges and we must beware of that fact. The two students I met last week informed me that other social media options and opportunities are becoming available all the time.