PwC urges businesses to prepare for new online safety law

14 Sep 2020548 Views

Image: © Rostislav Sedlacek/Stock.adobe.com

The introduction of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill has been delayed, but PwC says businesses should still prepare for when it eventually takes effect.

The Irish Government is set to introduce the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill with the goal of beginning a new era for online services.

As part of the EU’s Audio Video Media Services Directive, Ireland’s deadline to introduce the bill was set to be 19 September. However, Ireland, along with many other EU states, will miss the deadline as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic – though the proposed bill is still set to take effect eventually.

Ahead of the bill’s appearance on the statute books, PwC has advised companies that are likely to be impacted by the new law to begin preparing for the proposed measures as soon as possible.

According to PwC, industries affected by the new rules could include social media services; public boards and forums; online gaming services; e-commerce services; private communication services; private online storage services; online search engines; and internet service providers.

‘Radical changes’

PwC said that the Government measures are expected to make “radical changes” to the management of online content. The proposed legislation aims to break new ground in regulating harmful online content, with the goal of making online content safer for all users.

It will see an Online Safety Commissioner established, who will have responsibility for the new regulations. This will be part of a new Media Commission, replacing the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

‘The bill will have major implications for online services, fundamentally altering how harmful content will be moderated’
– DAMIAN BYRNE

The new Media Commission would have the power to designate online services to be regulated under the new scheme. Harmful content will be the key area of focus, including material that is a criminal offence to disseminate, that is considered cyberbullying material or that promotes self-harm.

Damian Byrne, assurance partner at PwC Ireland, said: “The bill will have major implications for online services, fundamentally altering how harmful content will be moderated. The scope is broad and companies that facilitate any sharing of content online by users may come into scope over time.

“Its introduction will see these companies having to comply with new online safety codes enforced by the new Online Safety Commissioner. The bill will set a clear expectation for these companies to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their users.”

External accountability

While most social media companies already have in-house content moderation, trust and safety teams, PwC said that there has been little external accountability to date. With the introduction of the new regulations, these organisations will be subject to new reporting as well as external review by agents appointed by the Commissioner.

For multinational companies that have EU headquarters in Ireland, the State will become the regulator on a cross-EU basis for audio visual content disseminated on these online services.

PwC is advising companies impacted by these new regulations to start preparing by putting a roadmap in place, undertaking a readiness assessment and making an effort to engage with the regulator as early as possible.

Bertie Murphy, head of customer experience at PwC advisory, said: “The bill will allow the Online Safety Commissioner to set out how social media companies must moderate harmful content. Given the scale, visibility and accessibility to content we’d anticipate large social media companies to be regulated first. We urge all social media companies to start preparing now.”

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com