Online safety law could block social media sites for non-compliance

10 Jan 2020

Image: © Thomas/

The proposed Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill aims to end self-regulation by tech giants and give the Government ‘significant powers’.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton, TD, has today (10 January) published the details of the proposed Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

If passed into law, it would create the position of an online safety commissioner. The person in that role would be responsible for legally requiring online services to follow guidelines on combating cyberbullying, harmful content and illegal product placement.

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Notably, the commissioner could enforce sanctions such as issuing financial penalties to companies who fail to comply, but also blocking access to that service – such as a social media site – in Ireland. The Government has not stated the value of these financial penalties.

‘This new law is the start of a new era of accountability’

In the Bill, the services deemed open to regulation include social media platforms, forums, online gaming, e-commerce, private communications, cloud, media search engines and internet service providers. It added that matters relating to private communications and cloud would be limited due to privacy concerns.

“Shortly after I was appointed minister, I said that the era of self-regulation for online companies was over. Digital technology has transformed every aspect of our lives and we must put in place measures to protect our children online,” Bruton said.

“This new law is the start of a new era of accountability. It sets out a clear expectation for online services. They will have to comply with binding online safety codes made by an online safety commissioner, who will have significant powers to sanction companies for non-compliance.”

Ability to hear ‘super complaints’

If an online service is found to be in breach of the law, the commissioner will issue a compliance notice that will include a requirement to remove or restore content. If the service fails to take action, it will be issued a warning notice and, if this again isn’t followed, it will be hit with a sanction.

Whether it is a financial penalty or blocking a service online, all of these sanctions will require court approval.

There would also be a system in place for NGOs or members of European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services to issue ‘super complaints’ to flag certain issues with the commission.

“We are putting in place a robust framework to ensure, as best we can, that all of us, but especially our children, are protected from harmful content online,” Bruton added.

“While it would be impossible to protect people from every danger, this new law will ensure the era of self-regulation is over and that online companies are subject to much stricter standards and sanctions.”

If passed into law, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland would be dissolved and replaced by a new Media Commission to oversee all audio-visual content in the country.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic