Online safety bill must include independent reporting, ISPCC urge

Swift action must be taken for children and young people across Ireland suffering the devasting impacts of cyberbullying.

This was impressed upon TDs and Senators by ISPCC Chief Executive John Church when he presented to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht on Thursday last.

Committee Chair, Cavan-Monaghan TD Deputy Niamh Smyth previously said the Bill proposes the appointment of an Online Safety Commissioner as part of a wider Media Commission to oversee the new regulatory framework for online safety. "It is proposed that the Commissioner will govern this new framework through binding online safety codes and robust compliance, enforcement and sanction powers to address the problems of harmful content and online communications.”

In his Opening Statement to a meeting, Mr Church will share the experience of a teenage girl who turned to Childline to speak about how she felt driven to self-harm by the targeted, persistent and all-encompassing bullying she was enduring across multiple online platforms, with limited meaningful redress via the platforms’ own reporting mechanisms.

The ISPCC is advocating strongly in favour of the inclusion of a mechanism for individual complaints in the legislation to ensure that children and young people who do not receive satisfactory redress from online service providers have a route through which their harmful experiences online can be appropriately heard and addressed.

“Children and young people have a right to be safe and a right to be heard. Yet, these rights are being systematically violated in an environment where they are increasingly living their life: online. Many are experiencing acute distress as a result of relentless bullying which can feel impossible to escape.

“We tell our children and young people to let us know about any negative or concerning experiences they encounter in life – yet, when it comes to their safety online, are our systems there to listen? If the egregious harm being inflicted on a child does not meet the investigation threshold of a platform or site, what action can they take to access an effective remedy –a remedy they have a right to?” asked Mr Church.

“Our legislators have it within their gift to send a clear signal of their commitment to keeping children safe by making provision for an individual complaints mechanism within the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. The ISPCC is urging them to recognise the importance of this and to legislate accordingly,” said Mr Church.

“Children and young people look to adults to keep them safe. Sadly, Ireland has seen a litany of instances over recent decades in which children have not been listened to and in which their safety has not come first. History cannot be allowed to be repeated. The progression of this legislation is a prime opportunity for the Committee to take decisive action for children and young people. To lose this chance would be to facilitate their continued harm,” he concluded.

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