E-commerce firms warned on moderating forums for ‘harmful content’

Ireland among countries that will miss EU directive deadline

Companies that do  not control the spread of harmful videos and other content on their community forums and platforms will be liable for fines under the new law. Photograph: iStock

Companies that do not control the spread of harmful videos and other content on their community forums and platforms will be liable for fines under the new law. Photograph: iStock

 

Companies that trade online are being advised to prepare for proposed new laws to control the publication of “harmful content” on their online forums, even as the Government will miss a deadline this week for the transposition into Irish law of some of the planned measures.

The deadline for transposition of the European Union’s audiovisual media services directive, which will attempt to regulate the publication of abusive or harmful videos online, was meant to be Saturday, September 19th. However, it has been accepted that delays caused by the Covid-19 crisis mean many European countries, including Ireland, will miss the deadline.

The directive is due to be turned into Irish law through the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, published by the Government in January and also included additional measures to the new European rules.

The proposed law would create a new Media Commission to replace the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and, as part of this, establish a new Online Safety Commissioner with power to fine companies that do not control the spread of harmful videos and other content on their community forums and platforms.

Inciting hatred

Ireland’s regulator would also become the de-facto pan-European regulator for big internet platforms with their European headquarters here, such as Google and Facebook, when it comes to the specific issue of controlling the spread of harmful videos, such as those that incite hatred.

Corporate advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers says that while there is currently no timeline laid out by the Government for the measures to become Irish law, companies, such as e-commerce entities with community forums, should put in place measures now to allow them to moderate the content for which they will be held responsible.

“There are four categories of harmful content that are being targeted,” said Bertie Murphy, head of customer experience at PwC’s advisory practice. “Material that is already a crime to disseminate, cyberbullying material, material around eating disorders, and self-harm content.”

Social media

Outside of the big web and social media companies, businesses that will be affected by the proposed laws include gaming outfits, video-sharing platforms and online boards and forums. In addition to the video control powers from the EU directive, the Irish body will also regulate Irish companies on non-video text content that is considered harmful.

The regulator will have the power to shut down online forums that repeatedly breach the new rules, said Mr Murphy.

The Irish regulator will be funded by a levy on the firms regulated. Mr Murphy said, given that Ireland would be the de-facto country of regulation for more than 400 million Europeans using major platforms headquartered here, it is vital that the levy be set high enough to generate enough resources.