Thursday, 15 July 2021
Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
181. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if the remit of the online safety commission will be extended to include an escalation point for content that constitutes online bullying. [38876/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 179 and 181 together.
The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will, among other things, establish an Online Safety Commissioner as part of a wider Media Commission. The role of the Commissioner will be to oversee a systems and risk-based regulatory framework for online safety that will focus on measures that regulated online services can take to progressively minimise the availability of harmful online content on their services. This will apply to both the delivery (e.g. recommendation engines) and moderation of content.
The defined categories of harmful online content are set out in the General Scheme of the Bill and include criminal material, serious cyberbullying material and material promoting self-harm, suicide and eating disorders. Provision is also made for the addition of further categories following a rigorous assessment, recommendation by the Media Commission and Oireachtas approval.
The regulatory framework will be operationalised through binding Online Safety Codes made by the Online Safety Commissioner that will set out expectations and rules for how regulated online services, including social media services, deal with user-generated content on their platforms that falls within one of the above categories.
The powers of the Online Safety Commissioner will include a range of standard setting and information gathering powers, including the following powers; to set standards for how regulated online services handle complaints; to audit those complaints handling mechanisms; to set up a scheme to receive information from nominated bodies about systemic issues, and to issue guidance materials and advisory notices.
The Commissioner will also have a range of compliance and enforcement powers; to appoint authorised officers to investigate cases of suspected non-compliance; to seek the imposition of a financial sanction of up to €20 million or 10% of the turnover of an online platform found to be non-compliant; to require the removal or limitation of availability of individual items of content in discrete instances, and to seek an injunction to block access to a non-compliant online service in Ireland.
The Bill takes a systemic approach to regulation. The Online Safety Commissioner will not operate a mechanism which rules on complaints about individual pieces of content. There are serious concerns about the ability of any such statutory mechanism to operate effectively. For example, many of the larger online services will be regulated under this Bill on an EU wide basis, i.e. for 450 million people, raising numerous issues around scale, effective operation, the application to apply fair procedures, cultural and linguistic challenges in resolving complaints and the speed of response. However, members of the public may raise concerns with the Online Safety Commissioner and this will feed into their assessment of risk in relation to a particular service or type of content.
In addition, where the content may be criminal in nature, the appropriate point of contact would be An Garda Síochána. In these circumstances, it is considered that a systemic and risk based approach, with powers for the regulator to set standards, oversee and audit complaints mechanisms and take account of information from nominated bodies about systemic issues, will prove more effective.
With regard to anonymity or psuedoanonymity online, any consideration of restrictions on such practices has broad implications, including freedom of expression, the right to communicate and data protection, and would require an evidence-based and whole of Government approach. The implications of such measures therefore extend far beyond the scope of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.
Detailed legal drafting of the Bill by the Office of the Attorney General is progressing well and the General Scheme of the Bill is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Oireachtas Committee.