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Ireland’s “Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill” is the new legislation no one asked for

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In the eternal debate between safety and freedom, governments generally tend to err on the side of safety. So far, internet companies have largely been expected to self regulate. Ireland seeks to change that with new legislation.

Ireland wants to pass legislation that would allow them to block access to internet companies that don’t take measures to protect the safety of individuals. This shifts the burden of safety enforcement from the government onto the internet companies which are arguably in a better position of ability and understanding to take such measures.

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill would establish an Online Safety Commissioner as part of a new Media Commission, which would replace the Broadcast Authority of Ireland and regulate the audiovisual sector.

The legislation doesn’t specify what “online safety codes” will need to be followed, but it does allow the Commission to issue sanctions in the form of fines and blockages to companies that violate. Additionally, the legislation would ensure that online services had effective complaints procedures, whereby material can be requested to be taken down.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton called it part 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.”

Advertising, sponsorship and product placement would have to uphold minimum standards and not be harmful. “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,” Bruton added “To ensure, as best we can, that all of us, but especially our children, are protected from harmful content online.”

This legislation follows an announcement by the government in May of proposals to regulate content online, particularly content that promoted cyberbullying, self-harm or suicide, and prolonged nutritional deprivation.

While this effort certainly seems noble, many are concerned by the prospect of government regulating free speech and becoming an arbitrator of what’s “good” or “bad.”

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