Government to examine measures to tackle online bullying

Ministers to discuss digital safety and the need for greater regulation online

Katherine Zappone, the Minister for Children  will meet the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to discuss digital safety. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Katherine Zappone, the Minister for Children will meet the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to discuss digital safety. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

Government members will on Tuesday examine measures to tackle online bullying and the deliberate targeting of young people with online content promoting suicide and self-harm.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone are to meet to discuss digital safety and the potential need for further legislation or regulation in this area.

Mr Naughten will seek support for a new State office tasked with compelling social media sites to take down harmful abuse and offensive material quickly.

The proposed Digital Safety Commissioner would be a proactive force in identifying and taking down illegal content, Mr Naughten said.

The statutory position, which is modelled on similar situations in Australia and New Zealand, would seek to promote digital safety and encourage positive digital use among children and young people.

A new statutory code of practice would be enforced outlining standards for major internet companies and an effective complaints procedure.

Mr Naughten has said a number of parents and others have raised concern about the difficulties encountered when they seek to have offensive or upsetting material removed from social networks.

The Minister said: “Of course there will be those who claim this is akin to censorship and an attack on the freedom of speech but I will not accept there is a place in this digital world for those who wish others dead; raped; disfigured and the list goes on.”

A spokeswoman for the Minister said the proposal had been issued earlier this year and had nothing to do with recent political controversies.

Harmful but not illegal

The issue of online safety is under the remit of the three different Government departments.

While the Department of Justice has responsibility for illegal content including child grooming and child sexual abuse, there is no whole of Government response to the increasing challenges.

The meeting today will focus on addressing content, which is harmful but not illegal including bullying material, upsetting user remarks and information that promotes suicide or self-harm.

Mr Naughten said his department had a significant role to play in this area but other Departments including the Department of Education must help form a Government strategy.

It is expected online operators will be asked to participate in an open policy dialogue on the matter.

The Minister said: “This will take stock of where we are and where we need to be as a country to ensure people, young and old, that are using online platforms are safe from the dangers that exist in the virtual world. It’s about protection, education, safeguards and accountability.”

A spokesman for the Minister for Justice said Mr Flanagan was committed to examining this issue and will seek to address any concerns regarding a lack of legislation in this area.