Time has come for proper regulation of social media – Bruton

Minister for Communications to consult AG on Sinn Féin TD’s digital safety Bill

Any new law must be robust and effective and must meet the “urgent policy need” to protect children. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Any new law must be robust and effective and must meet the “urgent policy need” to protect children. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

 

It is time to move beyond self-regulation by social media platforms, but any new law must be robust and effective and must meet the “urgent policy need” to protect children, Minister for Communications Richard Bruton has said.

Mr Bruton was addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications on Thursday to discuss the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill proposed by Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

Under the Bill, the new Digital Safety Commissioner would have a role in promoting digital safety as well as having the power to order “digital service undertakings” to remove “harmful digital communications”.

The commissioner would also have the power to apply for injunctions where an organisation refused to comply with a direction to take down material.

Mr Bruton, who was appointed to the communications portfolio last week, said there was “clearly a regulatory task to be done” if we were to move beyond self-regulation, and somebody would have to oversee that.

But he did not think it was necessarily true that “we need to put a stamp on the door of someone and say that if you want digital safety that’s where you go to”.

It required people “working together across the silos”, he added. Mr Bruton said he believed Mr Ó Laoghaire needed to give “a bit more thought” to what this role was.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Bruton said he welcomed the opportunity to speak about the Bill.

“In general terms, I believe that it is time to move beyond self-regulation in this area. However, if we are to pass a law we must ensure that is robust, effective, and meets the urgent public policy need to protect children which we are trying to address,” Mr Bruton said.

Definitions

He told the committee it would be useful if it could consider how concepts such as “harmful content” and a “digital service undertaking” were defined.

He also asked whether it was appropriate to transfer functions from across government that provide advice on online safety into one entity.

“For example, would a resource like Webwise move into a new digital safety commissioner, or is it preferable to have that resource continue to work closely with teachers through the professional development service for teachers?” the Minister asked.

He said the committee should also examine if a “risk-based” approach to tackling online safety issues was the best way in which to implement change, and whether a new office could overcome extraterritorial issues – where providers are not based in this jurisdiction – in an effective way.

“In parallel to the work now being undertaken by the committee, I have requested that the Attorney General provide advice to me on this piece of legislation,” Mr Bruton said.

“I have asked my department to consider the proposal, which has been put forward by the Law Reform Commission and the Private Member’s Bill now before us.”

Mr Bruton said he was committed to promoting online safety.

“We must now look at how best we can ensure our children, and indeed all our people can feel safe online and have appropriate recourse when things go wrong online,” he said.

Online safety resources are available at www.gov.ie/besafeonline