Your guide to the Government’s new online safety strategy

11 Jul 2018

Image: goodluz/Shutterstock

The Irish Government aims to roll out its Action Plan for Online Safety over the next 18 months, but what does it involve?

As our lives become more enmeshed with the internet, it brings a host of risks as well as well-known benefits. The speed of online innovation is difficult to keep pace with at best and at worst, new issues arising from the changes are growing in number and are difficult to deal with.

With this in mind, the Government has today (11 July) launched the first ever online safety strategy in Ireland, with 25 specific actions earmarked to be tackled over the next year and a half.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, said: “Government action alone will not and cannot remove all risks from the internet. Individuals, parents, educators, industry and law enforcement all have roles to play in making the internet a safer place.

“As the internet affects all aspects of our lives, the only approach that will truly be effective is one that involves all stakeholders playing their part.”

Online safety for all

  • A single access point on through which all available resources can be found will be built. This will involve the roll-out of a single brand associated with the online platform and a national communications campaign targeted at an array of user groups.
  • A youth hub for Webwise will be developed to represent the student voice in digital safety. Resources for parents will be adapted and new tools for parents of pre-schoolers will be created.
  • Educators will be reminded of the need for online safety awareness, and the Government will work with the Teaching Council to integrate specific training into its existing frameworks for trainees.
  • It seems very difficult to start from scratch when it comes to going online, but help will soon be provided to novices who feel a little lost. Digital learning centres will be created in public libraries to give everyone access to knowledge.

Better supports

  • An interactive digital resource will be created for primary-level children, and online safety will be a major part of the upcoming digital learning framework for schools.
  • Schools will have to consult with parents, students and educators about phone use in schools, and funded anti-bullying training sessions will be provided to the National Parents Council.
  • Safer Internet Day will play a bigger role. An ambassador programme and awards programme will be created and participation increases in the programme will be sought.
  • Online and telephone signposting tools for mental health help are in the works. Digital and telephone-based tools will be established and online therapy sessions could also be on the cards. A mental health hub pilot scheme will be created in a chosen primary care centre for remote counselling, and this will be backed up with advertising.
  • Digital content to bolster peer support and build resilience will become available.
  • Ireland will consider ways to promote positive online content for children in line with EU strategy.

Stronger protections

  • New criminal offences will be legislated for, including online harassment, revenge porn and online stalking.
  • Online safety will be specifically accounted for in statutory statements around child safeguarding.
  • The Government will strengthen links with ISPs and explore the feasibility of proactively engaging in searches to find and remove images of child abuse.
  • The Government will work with online platforms based in Ireland such as Facebook to advance safety measures, potentially improving monitoring for harmful advertising viewed by children.
  • A best-practice guide for online platforms and digital services will be produced.

Influencing policy

  • Ireland will work with the EU to provide far-reaching solutions to online safety challenges, and the country will also publish the 2017-2018 WeProtect Global Alliance report to see where things can improve.
  • A revision of regulations around on-demand audio visual media services will also be undertaken, with a public consultation due to take place.
  • The Government will work alongside the Joint Oireachtas Committee in relation to the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill 2017.

Building understanding

  • An annual Safer Internet report will be published to coincide with Safer Internet Day.
  • A new national advisory council for online safety will be created with a broad membership base, from industry and academia to children and parents.
  • Young people in Ireland will be consulted on the action plan through Hub na nÓg.

Reaching the goals

  • The Government says it will create a sponsors group to implement the action plan and all departments will be involved.
  • A cabinet committee chaired by the Taoiseach will report on progress and a Minister of State will be tasked with linking all the Government bodies together.
  • The Government will refocus the Office for Internet Safety, replacing the ISAC with the new advisory council.
  • Ensuring appropriate funding and resourcing is allocated to the plan is also a key aim.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects