The ISPCC has welcomed the announcement that a new Online Safety Act, with measures including the establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner, is to be introduced to help ensure Irish residents, including children, are safe online.
The national child protection charity has long championed the need for a regulator to be appointed, citing children’s online safety as the child protection issue of our day.
ISPCC CEO John Church said: “Through our work directly with children and families, the ISPCC is acutely aware of the need for online platforms to be regulated to ensure children can be safe. We hear at first-hand the accounts of children who experience the adverse side to being online. Children and young people have told us that they feel there should be better regulation of social network providers and that they should be better protected online.
“The ISPCC broadly welcomed the publication of the government’s first Action Plan for Online Safety last July – in particular, its provisions for enhanced education measures and proposed law reform. However, we expressed disappointment that the Action Plan fell short in a commitment to statutory regulation. The public has been presented with many stark examples of where self-regulation is failing. It is our experience that these failures can impact negatively on children and there are positive actions which Ireland can take to better protect children online.
“We are delighted, hence, to hear Minister Bruton state unequivocally that it is time to move beyond self-regulation of online platforms. The Minister’s proposals to provide an Online Safety Commissioner with powers including those to require regular reports from industry on issues including content moderation, to require a service to remove an individual piece of content within a set timeframe and to impose administrative fines in relation to failures of compliance, will demand that online platforms provide a space which is safe for children and young people.
“It is imperative that any new regulator is adequately resourced in order to be able to sufficiently enforce their powers.
“Children deserve to be able to enjoy all of the learning, recreational and social benefits of being online – and while education programmes can be helpful in this regard, it is difficult for them to go far enough. The onus should be on industry and providers to ensure the Internet is a safe space. Children have a right to be protected and this protection extends to being online.
“There are many stakeholders involved in keeping children safe online. We’ve seen well-intentioned legislative proposals on online safety from various public representatives over the last two years, and we urge cross-party collaboration to review these Bills and to amalgamate the key elements for consideration into one Online Safety Act.
“As Minister Bruton stated, the success of the Australian model in recent years – where there is a 100 per cent compliance rate with the Australian e-Safety Commissioner – sets a very encouraging precedent. The consultation process for the Act is now open for the next six weeks and the ISPCC looks forward to making its submission.”