Pat Rabbitte TD, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has announced the formation of an Internet Content Governance Advisory Group. The purpose of this working group is to consider emerging issues in the area of online content with a focus on issues that arise in relation to children and young people. The Minister’s main concerns are the risk of cyber-bullying and the problem of access to age-inappropriate content.
The Group is to be chaired by Dr Brian O’Neill, Head of the School of Media at Dublin Institute of Technology. He will be joined by two other academics, a lawyer, and a representative of the National Parents Council. Notably, the only group member from the world of industry is Kate O’Sullivan, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at UPC Ireland. There has been no inclusion of a representative from a major social media company, in spite of the Group’s focus on social media and the presence of a number of leading social media organisations in Ireland.
The Group is tasked with addressing three principal questions:
whether the existing laws and regulations relating to electronic communications, internet governance and the sharing of material online remain relevant;
whether other existing policy responses by the State are still able to deal with any of these issues; and
what the most appropriate relationship should be between ISPs, online service providers, the State and citizens in relation to access to legal material and bullying and harassment online.
The Group is expected to make recommendations by 30 May 2014.
The motivation for the Group’s formation seems to have come from a report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications entitled “Addressing the Growth of Social Media and Tackling Cyber-Bullying.” The report focused on the misuse of social media and the impact it has on children and young people, particularly the effect of cyber bullying. The report considered measures which have been implemented to tackle this problem in Ireland, at EU level and elsewhere.
A number of recommendations were made by this report. It noted that children often bypass the age restrictions put in place by social media platforms and suggested that it is up to companies and parents to be aware of tackling this problem. It suggested that the Office for Internet Safety (established in 2008 as part of the Department of Justice and Equality) does not adequately deal with cyber-bullying, or with the tracing of tweets and other social media.
The report also considered cyber-bullying between adults, noting that employers should be aware that cyber-bullying falls within the term “harassment” for the purposes of Section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. Lastly, the report called for the establishment of a single body that would be responsible for co-ordinating the regulation of social media content - the new Internet Content Governance Advisory Group.
The Group’s terms of reference hint at other factors in its formation. Among other key issues, the Group must consider the rise of social media, proposals in other jurisdictions to request that ISPs block access to certain legal material ‘by default’, and the recent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to liability for online comments (discussed here). While the Group faces challenges in striving to regulate the internet, it is hoped that the Group will be successful in fairly considering and balancing the different rights and interests at stake.
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