Social media directors could be liable for allowing harm under new proposals

Minister for Culture and Media discusses proposal with Fianna Fáil senators

Directors of social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter would become personally criminally liable for allowing their platforms to be used for online harm under proposals discussed on Wednesday by Minister for Culture and Media Catherine Martin and Fianna Fáil senators.

Senators Malcolm Byrne and Shane Cassells met Ms Martin yesterday to press the case for amendments to a draft Bill published earlier this year which would take the radical step of opening the directors to criminal sanctions for failing to police their platforms.

Mr Byrne said the Minister signalled she agreed with amendments he intends to table to strengthen the Bill’s provisions when it comes to the Seanad.

The Minister’s spokesman confirmed that she was open to taking amendments, adding: “All sides agreed they were trying to achieve the same objective.”

The online safety and media commission legislation is due to be considered by the Oireachtas in the coming months. It will regulate social media giants, enabling a new commission which will have powers to levy them with substantial fines. However, online safety campaigners want to toughen the proposed legislation, which they say does not go far enough.

‘Game-changer’

The proposal to make directors personally criminally liable would be, its promoters say, a “game-changer” for regulating the social media companies. They say it would be similar to health and safety legislation, which allows directors of companies to be prosecuted for breaches of the law. They say that the social media companies, with their vast profits, simply do not regard fines as a significant punishment or deterrent.

“If companies can simply write off fines as business costs, as we have arguably seen in the case of some data breaches, then we know that they are not going to take fines for the consequences of online harm seriously,” Senator Byrne said.

“If, however, company directors are made criminally liable for where they knowingly and recklessly allow online harms to be developed or perpetuated, then there will be change in attitude.”