28 May 2022

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Parents, students,teachers encouraged to have their say on plan for online safety commissioner

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton has launched a six week consultation period on his new online safety bill

Minister for Communications , Richard Bruton.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton.

Parents, students,teachers and industry groups have all been encouraged to have their say on the proposed internet safety measures outlined by Minister for Communications Richard Bruton yesterday.  The minister said that the creation of an online safety commissioner in Ireland will end the era of self-regulation for social media companies.

So, what does it mean?

The measures will tackle issues that impact children online such as cyber bullying,including content which is seriously threatening, seriously intimidating, seriously harassing or seriously humiliating.  Under the plan, material that promotes self harm, suicide or nutritional deprivation will also be deemed as harmful online content.


What will the online safety commissioner do? 

The commissioner will have the power to tell a social media company to remove a piece of content from its platform.  They will be able to administer fines in cases of non-compliance and to issue interim and final notices to services in relation to failures of compliance.

Criminal proceedings can be brought against a service provider who has not cooperated with the commissioner’s findings.  The commissioner will also have the power to name and shame providers who do no not comply with the new rules. The commissioner will also have a role in the regulation of video sharing platforms.


What do the social media firms have to do?

At the moment, online platforms are required to remove content which it is a criminal offence under Irish and EU law to disseminate, such as material containing incitement to violence or hatred,for example.  Under the new Online Safety Act, companies will need to operate an Online Safety Code, which would set out the steps they are taking to keep their users safe online. This code would include prohibition of content, such as cyberbullying material, as well as a complaints procedure where people can request that material be removed. The companies would also be required to “build safety into the design of online platforms through the application of technology and human intervention.”


Does this mean that everyone is happy with the plan?

Mostly. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) said they were delighted to hear the minister say it is time to move beyond self-regulation of online platforms.  They added that it was “imperative that any new regulator is adequately resourced in order to be able to sufficiently enforce their powers.” Donnachadh O’Laoghaire a Sinn Fein TD in Cork had recently proposed a similar bill and queried why the minister was bringing new legislation instead of amending his bill.


What now?

 A six week consultation period. The Minister said he was urging “parents and students, all teachers, all industry and groups who have views on these issues and who have concerns about possible impacts to make their views known so that we can take them into account as we develop legal proposals which are implementable”. The consultation has gone live on the Department’s website and is available here


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