Thursday, 22 September 2022
Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the Bill, which is not before its time, considering we have already been fined by the EU for our failure to implement the audiovisual media services directive. The media commission is a much-needed expansion of the role of broadcasting authority. Ireland is playing catch-up with how media have evolved. The Law Reform Commission first mentioned the establishment of something resembling an online safety commissioner back in 2016. In 2017, my colleague Deputy Ó Laoghaire moved the Digital Safety Commission Bill to address the issue of the lack of regulation relating to online abuse. The conversation has progressed since then, but the big issues then are still the big issues now. I hope this Bill will provide us with a proper framework for protecting children from the worst traits of the Internet. I hope this is the beginning of the end for social media companies' self-regulation. They have shown themselves to be incapable of policing harmful content.
No one thinks this will be a silver bullet that solves all child protection concerns that come with children having access to the Internet but it is a step in the right direction. The Minister needs to ensure that enforcement in the area is strong and the Bill does not leave any wriggle room for companies looking to shirk their responsibilities. I also hope the Bill will lead to more transparency about how social media platforms operate, allowing us to develop stronger policies in this area.
The report of the expert group on an individual complaints mechanism, which was published late on Tuesday evening, recommended that the individual complaints mechanism be phased in by 2024. This will allow those being bullied or harassed online to make a complaint directly to the regulator, something Sinn Féin strongly supports.
I question why the report was published so late given that the Minister has had it since May and we have not had time to analyse it properly ahead of this debate. That is not good enough, to be honest, but I hope its contents can be reflected in amendments on Committee Stage.
I want to speak briefly about another proposal in the Bill, namely, the content levy. I would like to see the money collected from this measure allocated to independent Irish production companies and more specifically to Irish language media. It would be a great way to ensure that money would be invested in Irish programming and would showcase the talents of our best and brightest in the arts sector.
I highlight the need for staff employed by social media companies to review harmful content to be given support. The Minister should impose some sort of duty of care on these companies to ensure they adequately support their workers. I hope the Minister will take on board some of these suggestions to strengthen the Bill on Committee and Report Stages.