Government claims draft laws will end 'era of self-regulation' on social media

By Cormac O'Keeffe
Security Correspondent

The Government will publish draft laws in the coming months which it claims will end the “era of self-regulation” in the social media industry.

The new online safety law will involve a national system of oversight of social media companies, including a new Online Safety Commissioner.

Government departments were responding to research published this week by CyberSafe Ireland which highlighted a range of issues, including continuing easy access by young children to set up social media accounts and the high rate of contact among children with strangers online.

CyberSafe Ireland recommended “robust monitoring and regulation” of online service providers.

The expert training body said this could be in the form of a digital safety commissioner, but said it was “essential” that the regulator was “given a proper mandate and the necessary resources to hold online service providers to account”.

It said this must include those both in Ireland and outside the country.

CyberSafe called for a public awareness campaign and a greater focus on education of children and parents on online safety.

It said there needed to be a “more comprehensive and consistent” school curriculum on digital safety and that it should become the fourth pillar of education, alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.

The training charity said one in six teachers surveyed said there were no resources in their schools on digital literacy and over half of teachers said they did not feel equipped to teach about it.

In a statement, the Department of Communications said its minister Richard Bruton was brining forward laws which will require online providers to operate under “a new safety code certified by an independent Online Safety Commissioner”.

It said it was part of the Government's Action Plan for Online Safety, launched by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in July 2018, bringing together six relevant departments under the chair of the Department of Education.

It said the submissions to the new Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill had been considered and added: “Minister Bruton will bring an outline of the new bill to government this term, which will ensure the era of self regulation for social media companies is over."

The Department of Education said the second progress report on the Government's action plan would be published shortly.

In a statement, it said that the National Advisory Council for Online Safety had also been established to advise the Government.

In relation to schools, it said online safety formed part of the curriculum, teacher professional development and strategies around wellbeing and bullying.

It said the internet safety initiative Webwise.ie had developed an online hub for teachers, parents and, more recently, a youth hub. It said cyberbullying, screen time, sexting, online coercion and extortion, social media and online pornography were covered by Webwise.

It said that in the new Framework for Junior Cycle digital literacy skills were promoted through the eight “key skills”.

The department said the Digital Learning Framework, which guides schools on embedding digital technologies in teaching and learning, was in its second year of dissemination.

*cybersafeireland.org; webwise.ie

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