The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will, among other things, establish a regulatory framework for online safety to be overseen by an Online Safety Commissioner as part of a wider Media Commission. The General Scheme of the Bill provides for the establishment of a multi-person Media Commission with up to 6 commissioners. It is intended that an Executive Chairperson and 3 commissioners, including an Online Safety Commissioner, will be appointed initially following a recruitment campaign by the Public Appointments Service.
The General Scheme provides that the Commission will delegate the performance of certain functional areas to individual commissioners and it's intended that the person recruited as the Online Safety Commissioner will be delegated the online safety related functions of the Commission. This approach was taken on foot of legal advice that specifying the exact role of each commissioner in the Bill would make it difficult to appoint additional commissioners to work on online safety in the future.
The goal of the regulatory framework for online safety will be to tackle the availability of defined categories of harmful online content through systemic oversight over how regulated online services deliver and moderate the user-generated content on their platforms. This is a risk based approach that is intended to drive towards the best possible outcomes for all users of online services.
While there is an appreciation of the desire for an individual complaints mechanism, there are serious doubts about the effectiveness of a statutory mechanism of this kind in the online safety space. There are a number of reasons for this, including that:
- requirements for fair procedures would not facilitate a swift resolution of individual issues, as it would be necessary to engage with the uploader of content as well as the complainant;
- the volume of online content, particularly as Ireland will be regulating Video Sharing Platform Services for the whole of the EU population of 450 million people, would overwhelm even the best resourced regulator
- referring complaints relating to individual items of content that are potentially criminal in nature to a civil regulator instead of An Garda Síochána would not be appropriate.
Among other things however, the Bill provides the Commission with the power to oblige designated online services to have effective complaints and appeals mechanisms in place and also the power to audit those mechanisms. This is part of the risk-based framework that will enable the Commission to seek the greatest degree of protection for all users through systemic oversight.
Individuals will always be able to bring issues to the attention of the Commission and the Commission will also have the power to order the removal of individual items of content in certain discrete instances. However, this will not be a formal complaints mechanism.
The Commission will also be empowered to set up a systemic complaints scheme to receive complaints from nominated bodies such as expert NGOs about trends in the prevalence of harmful online content and the effectiveness of measures taken by regulated online services to comply with their obligations. This will help to inform the Commission about what the prominent and emerging risks are at any point in time and inform the Commission's approach to making online safety codes and conducting audits and investigations.