Wednesday, 6th February 2019
Press statement by Hildegarde Naughton TD
Fine Gael, Galway West and South Mayo
Local TD Spearheading Move to Tackle Harmful Online Content
Almost 40 percent of children aged between eight and ten talk to strangers online, while nearly one-in-three do so as regularly as every week or every day, according to a survey of 1,200 minors.
The poll by CyberSafeIreland also revealed that 78 percent of eight-year-olds own a smart device, and almost half are using social media and messaging apps. Some 10 percent of respondents said they are online for more than four hours a day.
Almost a quarter of the children surveyed admitted playing over-18 video games containing violent or sexual content, while more than a third said they rarely or never spoke to their parents about online safety.
The findings were described as “troubling” by Fine Gael TD and Chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications Hildegarde Naughton, who said the issue is being taken “very seriously” by the legislative body.
“The issue of children’s online safety is being taken very seriously by the Oireachtas Committee, and plans are at an advanced stage to provide for an independent regulator to combat harmful or illegal content on social media,” she said.
“However, it remains an extremely complex area and there is a need to balance measures intended to protect people from harmful content with freedom of expression.
“The definition of harmful communication is therefore key. We cannot and don’t wish to police content that we may find distasteful, but which is not necessarily harmful. Any move to do so would be contrary to the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights,” explained Deputy Naughton.
“However, it is envisaged that an independent regulator would have the power to remove harmful or illegal content from social media platforms. This would be a hugely important tool for ensuring children’s safety online.”
The Galway West TD said that scrutiny of the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill had been completed, and the Oireachtas Committee will be reporting to the Dáil in the coming weeks.
Representatives of CyberSafeIreland, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), Google and Facebook have appeared before the Committee during its deliberations on the issue.
Deputy Naughton said she hoped the proposed legislation would proceed through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible. However, she noted that the new law would only be one part of a solution.
“The Government can only legislate so far. Parents, educators and the tech industry will also have a role to play if we are to tackle the issue of children’s online safety,” she said.
“Sometimes, parents don’t feel they have the technical knowledge to monitor their children’s online activity, but the Government has a good website that provides advice in that regard.”