Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022: Second Stage


4:17 pm

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

While there are aspects of this Bill that need further consideration and work, there is so much of it I welcome. Specifically, I very much welcome the inclusion of an online safety commissioner within the proposed media commission, whose role will be to address the proliferation of harmful online content. This is very welcome and needs to be given appropriate compliance and sanction powers to deal with the serious threat of harmful online content. There are so many positives to using the Internet and online content for information or entertainment purposes but it can be used in such a harmful way. Safeguards for people online, especially children, are vital for mental health and well-being. The Minister must, therefore, ensure there are ample options for recourse to protect people's safety rights online.

Years ago, bullying in school was usually confined to school but that is not the case anymore and home is no longer a sanctuary. Much of the hate speech or the harmful posts are published using a fake account as well. It is clear self-regulation of online media has not been at all successful in recent decades. Online content and media have changed beyond recognition and regulation has not kept up but tech giants need to be held responsible for the content they allow to be broadcast on their platforms. They must be required to review and remove content deemed harmful and if they do not, they must face meaningful and severe sanctions. There must be stricter controls on who can open an account to ensure verification of identity. The tech giants also need to work with the Garda in providing information on those who post harmful content because it is not always the case. In saying this, I must state also that reviewing harmful content is a role that requires safeguards to protect employees' mental health and well-being. I ask the Minister how this Bill will ensure online platforms will be compelled to protect workers' rights in this regard.

This Bill includes a content levy that should not be allowed to be passed on to customers. It should be allocated primarily to the independent production sector to showcase Irish production and storytelling.

Groups such as the Children's Rights Alliance, CyberSafeKids, the Ombudsman for Children and the ISPCA have all called for an individual complaints mechanism and, therefore, I welcome that the expert group has come to the conclusion that such a mechanism is feasible and that the Minister will seek Government approval for that. However, a timeframe of at least two years for this is a long time for people to have to wait.

The section dealing with freedom of expression is of particular concern. In regulating content there is a fine line between personal liberties and freedom of speech and the protection of certain groups from harm. Legislating against something as fundamentally subjective as causing offence is problematic and will also need further consideration.

It is crucial the media commission be adequately resourced to ensure it can carry out its much-expanded work in a timely and efficient manner.


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