Local TD Frances Fitzgerald said: “My colleague, Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, has recently announced that he will introduce a new Online Safety Act to improve online safety and ensure that children can be protected online. “For the first time we will have a law which clearly sets out an expectation for service providers to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the users of their service. The system will be overseen by an Online Safety Commissioner. “The Online Safety Act will define categories of harmful online content. Minister Bruton has indicated that these could include dangerous and continuous cyber-bullying, including content which is seriously threatening, intimidating, harassing and humiliating; material which promotes self-harm or suicide; and material designed to encourage prolonged nutritional deprivation that could have the effect of exposing a person to risk of death or endangering health.
“The new law will also place requirements on operators to operate an Online Safety Code, which would set out the steps they are taking to keep their users safe online. They will need to include a number of issues – such as the prohibition of cyber bullying material; and a complaints procedure where people can request material be taken down. They will also be required to build safety into the design of online platforms through the application of technology and human intervention. “While there are many excellent initatives going on across the government to promote online safety, the Online Safety Commissioner can be a single online access point through which all available Online Safety resources can be accessed by parents, teachers and children.”
Minister Bruton has put forward a number of options for how a new Online Safety Commissioner can do this important work – including the establishing of a new Media Commission. Under EU Law, the Online Safety Commissioner would be required to regulate all video sharing platforms that are based in Ireland. This will require significant changes to the way in which Ireland regulates audio visual content, both offline and online, including ensuring that Video Sharing Platforms have sufficient measures in place, and ensuring that they have a complaints mechanism in place where a user can make a complaint regarding content which is hosted on the service.
Deputy Fitzgerald continued: “A short six-week public consultation is set to commence on the options and I encourage everyone in Dublin to have their say. People can make a submission on the Department of Communications website.” Speaking at the launch Minister Bruton said: “Digital technology is transforming the world in which we work and live and learn. This provides huge opportunities for us all. It has been central to our economic and social development as a country for three decades. However, the digital world also presents new risks which did not exist previously. “As Minister for Education and Skills, I recognised the need to take action in this area, and issued a direction to schools that they should consult with parents, teachers and students on the use, if any, of smart phones in schools. “The situation at present where online and social media companies are not subject to any oversight or regulation by the state for the content which is shared on their platforms is no longer sustainable. I believe that the era of self regulation in this area is over and a new Online Safety Act is necessary. “Many parents find it difficult to keep up with the latest technology, or the latest app. That is understandable given how quickly online games and technology can evolve. To me it emphasises why the establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner is so important. “While it would be impossible to remove every danger from the internet or from the adaptation of new technology, what we need to do is to ensure that parents and children are better equipped, that the state can provide regulation and enforcement, and that online platforms take responsibility.”