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Online safety commissioner ‘had to ask’ some social media platforms to take down Navan schoolboy attack video

Commissioner asked platforms to report to her about their handling of video shared more than five million times

The online safety commissioner has said she had to ask some social media platforms to take down a widely-shared video posted on social media concerning an alleged hate-based attack on a schoolboy in Navan.

Commissioner Niamh Hodnett said she phoned the platforms concerning a video, forwarded more than five million times across several platforms, of the attack on the teenage boy on May 15th.

“Some of them had already taken it down, some of them had not and I had to ask them to take it down and report to me about how they handled it and the timescales,” she said.

The commissioner was speaking during an expert panel discussion on the theme of online harm at the inaugural conference in Dublin on Friday of the Media Internet & Data Protection Bar Association.


She was appointed last March as part of the new media commission, Coimisiún na Meán, established under the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022, for regulating broadcasters and online media and supporting media development.

The commission’s work includes the development of the first online safety code here aimed at reducing harmful online content, Ms Hodnett told the packed conference.

To be published later this year, the code will comprise 42 offences of putting certain material online, including child sexual abuse material, non-consensual image sharing and terrorist content, she said.

Some material, not in itself criminal, is deemed harmful content if it involves a risk element for life and mental health, such as cyberbullying and making available methods of self-harm or suicide, she said.

Systemic regulation of online content will be in place by the end of this year and will be monitored for about a year for compliance with the online safety code. The plan is to establish an individual complaints mechanism thereafter, starting with complaints concerning children and cyberbullying, she added.

Barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, Ireland’s special rapporteur on child protection, said some of the online material concerning the Navan attack was an example of material that is not easily categorised but with “potential to cause great harm”.

Many of those who shared the video did so for “benevolent” reasons, such as asking why had the gardaí and school not done more, but there was a “real issue” as to whether, once such difficult-to-categorise material was posted, it should have been taken down faster, she said.

The platforms’ response to the video was a “good example of a real patchwork and ad hoc approach in terms of how some platforms dealt with it quickly and some didn’t”, Ms Gallagher said. It was “a tribute” to the commissioner, in the early stages of her role, that she stepped in as she had.

Endorsing the commissioner’s view that a systemic online regulatory framework is not enough and a direct complaints mechanism is also necessary, Ms Gallagher expressed hope that this would lead to the various platforms “getting their act together faster”.

The online video showed a 14-year-old boy walking out of the grounds of his school being pursued by a group of students and subjected to an attack on an area outside the school grounds. He was treated in hospital for his injuries, including concussion, broken teeth and extensive bruising.

Five boys were questioned by gardaí in connection with the attack and were later released without charge. Gardaí later said that a file concerning the matter was to be referred in the first instance for consideration for admission to the Juvenile Diversion programme in line with the Children Act.

The Minister for Education, Norma Foley, later said the video of the attack should never have been posted online and its circulation had added to “the horror” of what happened. It was forwarded by adults for a variety of reasons and, while she was not casting aspersions as to their motivations, everyone should take a second look at how they operate on social media, she said.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times