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Irish “Online Safety Code” Would Give Media Regulator Authority To Punish Video Platforms for Videos That “Indirectly Lead To Harm”

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Advocacy group Free Speech Ireland has issued a “civil rights alert” as the country’s authorities are working to introduce the Irish Online Safety Code – that seems to be, at least in part, inspired by the UK’s hugely controversial Online Safety Act.

For example, although at first glance much smaller in scope, one point from the proposal is reminiscent of the Online Safety Act’s “legal but harmful” doctrine – it is punishing online platforms, specifically video ones, for content that “indirectly leads to harm.”

One of the ways such harm would be interpreted is even if a video does not contain content of the kind – comments to it are branded as “hateful.” In other words, it’s a platform liability for third-party content. The regulation would treat it as “indissociable from user-generated videos.”

One of the consequences is absurd – as Free Speech Ireland notes, to protect themselves, video platforms would have to “censor user content that is not even regarded as ‘harmful’ under the Code.”

The rules, if adopted, would be enforced by a regulator known in Irish as Coimisiún na Meán (CnaM, “Media Commission”). Free Speech Ireland explains that CnaM has received the blessing to introduce the regulation both from the Irish government, and the EU. Age verification is also baked into the plans.

The targeted sites, known as Video-Sharing Platform Services (VSPS), include YouTube, X, and Facebook, and this particular regulation is supposed to be enforced only in Ireland.

However, given that many large tech companies have their headquarters for Europe in Dublin, this could eventually complicate the situation and bring the same kind of censorship to the users in the US as well.

Journalist Peter Caddle, who is based in Brussels, is cited as saying that it would “likely be easier to apply EU censorship rules to all users rather than to try to split the user base into EU and non-EU users.”

There is still formal time to influence all this, as the process of introducing the Online Safety Code for video platforms is now in a public consultation stage, with the deadline for submissions being the end of this month.

CnaM explains that after the conclusion of the consultation, the final version of the code will become part of Ireland’s “overall online safety framework, making digital services legally accountable for how they keep people safe online.”

The rules will incorporate the EU Digital Services Act and the EU Terrorist Content Online Regulation, with the whole package to be enforced by CnaM.

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