Varadkar says tech firms ‘very attuned’ to child safety issues

Taoiseach thought it unnecessary to put legal onus on service providers in online safety plan

Photograph: Jonathan Hordl

Photograph: Jonathan Hordl

 

As with the housing crisis, so with child safety it seems – let the market take care of it.

In response to questions about why the Government’s new Action Plan For Online Safety 2018-2019 puts no legal obligation on internet service providers to take all necessary measures to keep children safe, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he didn’t think it necessary.

“I think in fairness to the big tech companies, when I meet them they are very attuned to this issue. They know that failing to act when it comes to online safety is damaging their reputation and potentially damaging their shareholder value in the longer time,” he said.

“When [offensive or dangerous] content is reported they take it down very quickly. Some don’t, but that’s the kind of work they need to be doing . . . You can pass any law you like but the internet by its nature is the worldwide web, so companies have a global reach that domestic laws don’t have.”

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten was also at the publication – along with Minister for Education Richard Bruton and Ministers of State Seán Kyne and Jim Daly.

Mr Naughten will establish an internet advisory council and will “be suggesting Facebook will be invited along with a variety of other stakeholders . . . certainly I would be hoping Google and Facebook would be part of that”.

The tobacco industry must be looking on nostalgically at the “kid gloves” internet service providers still enjoy.

Global actors

True, internet providers are global actors on which domestic laws will have limited impact but some of the biggest, and arguably standard-setters, have European headquarters here – Facebook, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn. They want to be here.

They are not the Snapchats and Instagrams our kids are accessing – both have their headquarters in California – but the very least that should be demanded is that they set standards that keep our children and young people safe. And contribute to the costs of strategies to keep children safe.

There is a lot that’s good in this plan – particularly for the children whose parents are computer literate, fully engaged in their children’s schools and who have the awareness, time, energy and resources to prioritise online safety.

For those children in families experiencing poverty, violence, mental health problems or other forms of marginalisation however, it’s difficult to see how a safety plan which fails to demand the industry participates, will make them any safer.