ISPCC cautiously welcomes pivotal moment for children’s safety as Online Safety Commissioner set to be established this year

Online Safety Commissioner
Online Safety Commissioner

ISPCC has cautiously welcomed a significant step forward for children and young people’s online safety in response to the Government’s publication today of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

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.

 

Five years on from pivotal online safety report, change is still required

It’s five years today since the Law Reform Commission published its report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety.

The report proved to be the catalyst much-needed for change in online law and policy.

 

ISPCC and Vodafone Ireland Foundation

Prior to the publication of the report, the ISPCC and Vodafone Ireland Foundation embarked on a five-year partnership: a key pillar being children’s online safety.

Together, we held a series of conferences amplifying the need for meaningful change.

In May 2017, a multi-site consultation was held with over 100 children and young people. Their key ask of government was for online safety to be taught as a ‘life skill’ on the curriculum.

 

Action on Online Safety

July 2018:

  • Government’s first Action Plan for Online Safety (2018 – 2019) published

 

  • National Council for Online Safety (NACOS), on which the ISPCC has a seat, was established to support the plan.

 

  • We await an impact assessment of the first plan, and indeed any follow-up plan.

 

January 2020:

  • Minister for Communications Richard Bruton published the General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

 

  • This promised to end the era of industry self-regulation and begin a new era of accountability, while addressing the issue of specific online harms.

 

  • The Bill doesn’t provide for an individual complaints’ mechanism – Where a child has a means of accessing redress when they have experienced egregious cyberbullying and platforms fail to remove the harmful content directed towards them or about them effectively and efficiently.

 

  • The Bill has undergone pre-legislative scrutiny by the relevant committee and we await the publication of its report and the next iteration of the Bill.

 

February 2021

  • Minister for Justice Helen McEntee signed the commencement order for the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act – Commonly referred to as ‘Coco’s Law’

 

  • This saw new crimes created to outlaw the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and broadened the scope of the offence of harassment

 

  • While Hotline.ie has been tasked with handling reports of intimate image abuse, little public awareness has been raised as to what people can report, where they can report and what follow-up supports are available to them

 

 

Now, we need:

  • An Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill to provide for an individual complaints’ mechanism – where an individual can access redress when a platform does not respond effectively or efficiently to their complaint

 

  • Online safety education embedded in our curriculum to build empathetic, resilient and competent digital citizens – to mitigate against future harms and to ensure we have young adults who can compete for the jobs of tomorrow

 

  • A government-led public awareness campaign to identify and address online harms and offences – to signpost those impacted to where they can report and where they can access support