Online Safety Bill can open the window to a safer online world for children but requires serious political will and action, says children’s campaign group

Today the Department of Tourism, Culture Arts, Gaeltacht Sport and Media published theOnline Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Bill. The Children’s Rights Alliance has united 16 of its members as part of the#123OnlineSafety Campaign to urge legislators to make critical changes to the Bill to ensure it is fit for purpose. 

Responding to today’s publication, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, Tanya Ward stated: 

“For too long, Governments have been playing catch-up with big tech when it comes to regulation. This Bill (OSMR) needs to be a firm line in the sand that the law will step in to protect individuals when platforms fail to do so. The OSMR Bill has every potential to put an end to the age of self-regulation by the big tech and social media giants and create a level of accountability that is sorely needed. It could open the window to a safer online world for children and young people in this country. The political will to ensure that it does this will need to be carried from publication today through amendment stages to ensure that key gaps in the General Scheme are addressed going forward.” 

Individual Complaints Mechanism 

Campaign members said: 

“Our line on online safety has been clear from the start – the Government needs to take a firm stand against illegal and harmful content that online platforms have allowed to fester in the age of self-regulation. The root of our concern lies with platforms alone being the sole gatekeepers of how complaints are handled and what safety codes they need to abide by. We emphasised the need for an individual complaints mechanism that would offer all individuals, but particularly vulnerable children and young people, an accessible solution when online services and platforms fail to protect them. With this mechanism, a person could raise a complaint with the Online Safety Commissioner when a platform fails to give them a satisfactory response, or any at all. An individual complaints mechanism represents a vital safety net for children and young people and would place a responsibility on platforms to make their services a safer space for children.  

“Young people are calling out for more protection online. At our recent conference, Aisling (17, representative of stated ‘if the kind of harassment that children are experiencing online was happening offline, there would be an uproar’. Children and young people cannot be left in the position again where harms build up online before any action is taken. As the Bill published today does not yet include provisions for an individual complaints mechanism, the importance of the Expert Group, announced by the Minister today, cannot go unstated. It is encouraging that the issue will be reviewed in detail and we are hopeful that the voices of young people, and the concerns of those who have experienced harm online, will be heard through this Expert Group in the coming months.” 

Online Safety Commissioner 

Campaign members continued:

“It is going to be very difficult to enforce any changes in behaviour in the Wild West of the online world without appointing a sheriff. It is not news that very harmful content can circulate on online platforms and the reality of the situation is, online harms can have a devastating impact in the lives of children and young people offline as well. They want the assurance that there is someone looking out for them and their interests in the online world. There is also huge support amongst the Irish public for the establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner and one with the weight of the law behind them to hold platforms accountable. 

“It is great to see Government delivering on its commitment to provide for a commissioner whose sole responsibility will be focused on online safety. It is also very positive to hear Minister Martin’s intention to seek approval to recruit for the office without delay. We have seen from other jurisdictions, the establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner can have a real and lasting impact in making the online world a safer place. It is important that the role of the Commissioner and their actions are bolstered by this legislation.

“The OSMR Bill presents a huge opportunity to bring about the changes we have been discussing for over a decade now to make the online world safer for children. The establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner represents a huge step forward in the protection of children and young people online.   Serious political will and action will be required to ensure the shortcomings in the Bill are addressed in promised amendments. The provisions for an effective individual complaints mechanism and a Commissioner with the ability to take swift action against non-compliant platforms are key to ensure the legislation meets expectations.” 

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