The new Online Safety Commissioner will further strengthen our efforts to keep people safe as they work and communicate online, according to TD Emer Higgins.
Deputy Higgins was speaking as the new Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill was approved by Government recently, which will ensure the development of online safety codes and the regulation of harmful online content, and make provisions for the levying of administrative financial sanctions.
Deputy Higgins, Fine Gael’s spokesperson on Social Media and Financial Technology, said, “We must do more to protect people from online abuse and it is time for online platforms to set out the steps they will take to keep their users safe online and build safety into the design of their platforms.
“The online and digital space is expanding rapidly with millions of us engaging with social media platforms and online content and communications every day. But we all know that the online world is not always the safest place to be, especially for young and vulnerable people, navigating relationships and communication online.
“That is why we need robust legislation that effectively deals with harmful content and protects online users from posts, images and videos that promote abuse, criminal behaviour and cyber-bulling or idealise self-harm, eating disorders and suicide.
“The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is a landmark piece of legislation tackling how we deal with harmful online content in Ireland.
“As part of the new proposed Media Commission, the legislation will provide for the appointment of an Online Safety Commissioner which will set out the rules for how digital platforms handle abusive and harmful online content.
“Should these social media companies fail to comply, the Bill proposes that the Media Commission will have the power to impose large financial sanctions – which is a very strong message to be sending to these giants of digital communication, which I really welcome.
“The Online Safety Commissioner was first proposed by Fine Gael under then Minster Richard Bruton who published the initial legislation on the matter in 2020. Fine Gael remained committed to the concept by including it in the 2020 election manifesto and ensuring it was in the new Programme for Government.
“The new Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will complement work already undertaken by my colleague Minister Helen McEntee in the Department of Justice in relation to harmful communications.
“I also welcome Minister Catherine Martin’s intention to establish an expert group to examine the provision of an individual complaints mechanism for harmful online content, and this may be addressed through potential amendments to the bill at Committee stage.
“We also need a National Digital Strategy and Government is committed to holding a public consultation on that. The digital environment can be really positive, but we know it can also be extremely dangerous and complex to navigate, and as the home to many of the world’s largest and most prolific social media companies, Ireland has a responsibility to be a leader on this.
“The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is a strong first step in changing how we respond to harmful online content going forward and there is room to further build on this to bolster our national response to harmful content.”