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Expert panel to examine an individual complaints system for harmful online content established

It follows the publication of the new Online Safety and Media Regulation bill earlier this month.

Minister Catherine Martin introduced the new bill earlier this month
Minister Catherine Martin introduced the new bill earlier this month
Image: Sam Boal

AN EXPERT PANEL to examine the feasibility of an individual complaints system for harmful online content has been created by the Government.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin launched the new panel this morning, following the publication of a new Online Safety and Media Regulation bill earlier this month.

The bill paves the way for a new online safety watchdog to be recruited to help regulate online services and reduce the availability of harmful content online. It also establishes a new Media Commission, a multi-person body that will include the new Online Safety Officer.

According to Martin, the panel will examine whether it is practicable to include an individual complaints mechanism within the bill, and if so, how that can be done.

“If an individual complaints mechanism can be provided for through the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill then I would like to ensure that this is done,” said Martin.

“The issue of providing for avenues of redress in terms of individual pieces of content in the online world is complex and at the end of the day any proposal I bring forward to address this issue must be practical and legally robust.”

The group is composed of six members and they are expected to report back to the Minister within 90 days.

Isolde Goggin, chair of the group, says that there are practical and legal issues to implementing an individual complaints mechanism but that it would have positive effects for people impacted by harmful content.

“The issue of providing for an individual complaints mechanism through the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill raises a number of practical and legal issues yet may also have the potential to have positive effects for individuals affected by harmful online content,” said Goggin.

We must be realistic about the challenges posed by providing for such a system while being aware of its potential benefits and seek to find workable solutions, including by examining best practices in dealing with complaints by bodies in Ireland and internationally.

At present, the bill will only allow for “nominated bodies” to bring systemic issues forward to the Media Commission.

The Children’s Rights Alliance has called for a specific complaints mechanism to be brought forward.

“We emphasised the need for an individual complaints mechanism that would offer all individuals, but particularly vulnerable children and young people, an accessible solution when online services and platforms fail to protect them,” CRA’s Tanya Ward said after the bill was published.

With this mechanism, a person could raise a complaint with the Online Safety Commissioner when a platform fails to give them a satisfactory response, or any at all. An individual complaints mechanism represents a vital safety net for children and young people and would place a responsibility on platforms to make their services a safer space for children. 

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The expert panel is also set to examine is online anonymity, which the current legislation does not address and Martin referred to as “a scourge”.

“As someone involved in politics, those anonymous accounts, as many journalists here will also be aware, are an absolute scourge. And I would foresee envisaged that this is something that the Media Commission will seek to tackle and deal with in those platforms,” she said. 

The members of the panel are:

  • Isolde Goggin, former chair of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission
  • Brian O’Neill, independent academic expert on online safety for children and Deputy Chair of the National Advisory Council for Online Safety
  • Ana Niculescu, CEO of Hotline.ie
  • Ronan Lupton, senior counsel
  • Baroness Kidron, children’s rights advocate, Chair of 5Rights Foundation
  • Peter Tyndall, former Ombudsman, Information Commissioner, and Commissioner for Environmental Information

- Additional reporting by Rónán Duffy

About the author:

Tadgh McNally

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