Children’s rights campaigners call for urgent action on online harms

Children's rights campaigners call for urgent action on online harms

Noeline Blackwell

Children’s rights campaigners have called for stricter regulation of social media algorithms to protect children from harmful online content.

The Children’s Rights Alliance wants Coimisiún na Meán and the Irish government to take urgent action in the wake of an RTÉ Prime Time investigation and a new study by Dublin City University (DCU), both of which were released this week.

Noeline Blackwell, online safety co-ordinator at the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “The revelations of the recent RTÉ and DCU investigations are incredibly worrying and certainly not where we want to be when it comes to protecting our children and young people online.

“To find that children as young as 13 — perhaps even younger — are being led down damaging rabbit holes with spiralling levels of negative content simply cannot be something we sit back and allow to continue.”

She continued: “Social media platforms create the digital pathways by which our children and young people receive content. It is therefore up to the platforms to build those systems as safely as they possibly can.

“This means building systems that do not persuade or allow our children to be lured into harm. It also means ensuring age-appropriate safeguards are in place and working effectively.

“If the platforms will not do this, the State must.”

Coimisiún na Meán is developing an online safety code to protect people from online harms, a draft of which was published for consultation late last year.

Ms Blackwell said: “Part of that protection should address how the digital companies push or suggest content to children, but in the draft recently published, this is not going to be regulated.

“On the contrary, [the] proposed online safety code to protect children from age-inappropriate content is troublingly permissive, allowing each platform excessive leeway. Essentially, it will be business as usual for the platforms.

“Coimisiún na Meán have the opportunity now to really stand up to the platforms and legally mandate them to protect children online.”

She added: “We hope the spotlight these recent investigations have shed on the very real and dangerous offline consequences of unregulated social media algorithms prompt an urgent engagement from the Government and Coimisiún na Meán to ensure that social media companies are obliged to build safe systems for children who use their products.

“Anything less is to risk children’s safety for social media platform profits and is not acceptable.”

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