Social media firms set to face multimillion-euro fines over harmful content

Social media firms set to face multimillion-euro fines over harmful content

Facebook’s European headquarters are in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Major social media companies could face multimillion-euro fines if they fail to remove harmful content under new legislation.

Online services, including Facebook and YouTube, which refuse to remove criminal content could be hit with fines amounting to €20 million, or 10% of their annual turnover.

The new Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will target online sites which feature criminal content, cyber-bulling, and content likely to promote eating disorders, self-harm or suicide.

The Bill also updates the legislation for how television broadcasting services and video on-demand services are regulated.

It is the first piece of legislation that deals with video regulation on video-sharing platforms, including YouTube.

The Government introduced the legislation following an EU directive signed in 2018.

As part of the new regulations, the Online Safety Commission will deal with harmful online content, with two separate commissioners dealing with broadcasting and video on-demand services.

Media Minister Catherine Martin said the Online Safety Commission will be able to “tackle the spread and amplification” of harmful online content.

The new Bill also provides for the prosecution of senior management in social media companies if they fail to comply with a warning notice from the online safety commissioner.

The commission will be given powers to block a service, request information about content, appoint officers to investigate and audit complaints, as well as directing services to comply with certain provisions.

The commissioner will also have the power to order social media companies to address misleading or false information online.

However, the commission has limited scope in relation to private messaging services and can only investigate when the content posted is criminal.

Several major tech firms, including Facebook, Apple and Google, have their European headquarters in Ireland.

Ms Martin also said video on-demand services like Apple TV+ will have to have a minimum of 30% European content or the Government will have the powers to shut it down across Europe.

Apple’s European headquarters are on the Hollyhill industrial estate in Co Cork (Niall Carson/PA)

“(The Bill) will establish a new regulator, the media commissioner, to regulate radio and television broadcasting services, video on-demand services and online safety,” Ms Martin added.

“It’s a really important piece of legislation which will see the creation of robust regulation for online platforms and setting Ireland apart as one of the first countries in the world to do so in a systemic way.

“It’s also worth noting that Ireland will now be regulating many of the major social media companies on behalf of all EU member states where it is the case that their European headquarters is (in Ireland).

“The new Online Safety Commission will tackle the spread and amplification of harmful online content, such as criminal material, cyber-bullying, material promoting self-harms, suicide or eating disorders.

“There are serious financial sanctions for online platforms that fail to comply with these regulations and the potential criminal sanctions for senior executives of these companies.

“The Bill also implements new EU rules for video on-demand services and ensures that they are regulated in a similar way to television broadcasters.

“The general scheme will now be forward to the Oireachtas for detailed pre-legislative scrutiny.”

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