The bill will see an Online Safety Commissioner established to regulate online services whilst reducing the proliferation of harmful content through binding online safety codes.
The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts and Media, Catherine Martin, will be establishing the Online Safety Commissioner on an administrative basis which will allow for recruitment to take place immediately and not result in an even lengthier period before there is a regulator in place.
Whilst the bill does not include the provision of an individual complaints mechanism, which ISPCC has campaigned for over many years as a means of ensuring children and young people who suffer the devastating impacts of cyberbullying can have their experiences heard and addressed appropriately, the Minister has chosen to establish an expert advisory group to examine the issue and report back to her with recommendations on how best to address the matter.
John Church, Chief Executive of ISPCC, said; “When we presented to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media in May last year, we shared the story of one such young person, Kate, who told us she felt driven to self-harm by the targeted, persistent and all-encompassing bullying she was experiencing across multiple online platforms daily. Individually, the messages Kate was receiving did not meet the investigation thresholds of many of the platforms and sites she used to warrant any action. Viewed in their totality, however, the damage they caused was clear to see.
“Key stakeholders, including ISPCC, went to great lengths in highlighting this substantial flaw in the General Scheme of the bill, including sharing a legal opinion obtained by us clearly showing that the Government is legally obliged to provide for such a system.
“Children and young people have a right to be safe and a right to be heard. Yet, we know these rights are being systematically violated online. Ireland has a bleak history of not listening to children and young people and not acting in their best interests. It is reprehensible thus to see that these failures are continuing into 2022, with the Government approving the publication of such a bill without provision for an individual complaints mechanism. Rather than ensuring those who experience cyberbullying will have access to meaningful redress, this legislation will instead facilitate their continued harm unless and until it includes such a procedure.”
The ISPCC has been to the fore in campaigning for children’s protection online for many years now and will continue to do so until children are able to avail of all the benefits and opportunities being online offers, in a safer and better supported manner. We will take some time now to review the details of the bill and look forward to continuing to contribute to it as it makes its way through the Houses.
Childline is always here for every child and young person in Ireland, for whatever might be on their mind. The listening service can be reached at any time of the day or night online, by phone or by text. For service details, see Childline.ie.