Era of self-regulation by social media giants must end

 

A chara, – Christy Galligan (Letters, July 31st) correctly points out that one of the key pieces of legislation that the Oireachtas will address this autumn is the Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Bill. The Bill is currently completing pre-legislative scrutiny before the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media. As members of the committee, we have heard from a wide range of stakeholders, including technology companies, and we will report in the coming months.

There is much that is good about social media – it can keep us informed, connected with friends, share ideas and crowdfund. It is transforming how we interact, mostly in a positive way. However, listening to evidence presented before the committee, as well as having heard so many stories privately and in the media about online abuse, anonymous trolling and algorithmic bias, it is clear that the era of self-regulation by the tech companies has to end.

It is essential that as part of the new legislation that an independent Office of the Online Safety Commissioner be established and that is properly resourced and empowered. It is also critical that where serious and clearly defined issues of social media harm are not addressed by media platforms, that an individual complaints mechanism to the office is established.

This is not about stifling freedom of expression or robust debate, but rather about addressing the dark side of social media that is having profoundly harmful impacts on people’s lives. These problems will not be addressed solely by regulation; education will also play a critical role. The tech companies must also be involved. The evidence from Australia, where the Office of the e-Safety Commissioner has been in place for six years, shows that once clear guidelines and codes are established, the office is not swamped with complaints, but also importantly a change in culture develops.

The Fianna Fáil members of the Oireachtas Committee have called on Minister for Media Catherine Martin to establish and start recruiting for the Online Safety Office immediately on a non-statutory basis so that when legislation is enacted, the office will be ready to take on its essential tasks. Ms Martin and the Government are committed to addressing online abuse and harm, as evidenced by the enactment of the Online Harassment and Harmful Communications Bill (Coco’s Law). It is vital therefore that the OSMR Bill establishes the Online Safety Office with real powers and an individual complaints mechanism. I will have difficulty supporting the legislation if this is not provided. Our first responsibility as legislators is the safety of our citizens and those resident here. That applies as much in the online world as it does on our streets and in our communities. – Is mise,

Senator MALCOLM

BYRNE,

Fianna Fáil,

Gorey, Co Wexford.