Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill: Social media firms facing hefty fines and criminal liability if they fail to meet new online safety standards | Fieldfisher
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Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill: Social media firms facing hefty fines and criminal liability if they fail to meet new online safety standards



Social media companies could face multimillion-euro fines if they fail to remove harmful content under new online safety and media regulation legislation. Online services, including YouTube, which refuse to remove criminal material could be hit with fines amounting to €20 million, or 10 per cent of their annual turnover, for failing to comply.
Last month the government announced new provisions in the finalised general scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, which establishes a new Media Commission to replace the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

The Bill is the first piece of legislation that deals with video regulation of video-sharing platforms, including YouTube. It targets online sites that feature criminal content, cyber-bullying, and content likely to promote eating disorders, self-harm or suicide. The Bill also updates the way in which television broadcasting services and video on-demand services are regulated, and aims to ensure greater regulatory alignment between traditional linear TV and video on-demand services, such as RTÉ Player and Apple TV.

The government introduced the legislation following the introduction of the EU's Audiovisual Media Services Directive in 2018, which governs EU-wide coordination of national legislation on all audiovisual media, covering both traditional TV broadcasts and on-demand services.

The new provisions of the Bill build on the general scheme first announced in January 2020. Key points include:
  • The establishment of a new Online Safety Commission to deal with harmful online content, with two separate commissioners appointed to handle broadcast and video on-demand services. The Online Safety Commission will not act as an Ombudsman to the public, instead working with social media platforms on standards and defined legal issues rather than as a helpline for the public. It will have limited scope in relation to private messaging services, only investigating where the content posted is criminal;
  • The DPP is to be permitted to seek to hold influential position holders in a designated online service criminally liable, in cases where the designated online service fails to comply with a warning notice from the new Online Safety Commission;
  • The Media Commission, which incorporates the Online Safety Commission, is to be funded through the introduction of industry levies. Traditional broadcasters have already paid these in the past, but video on-demand services and designated online services will have to pay them for the first time;
  • Video on-demand services will have to register with the Media Commission to allow an up-to-date list of such services to be maintained;
  • Video on-demand services, such as Apple TV or Disney Plus, will be required to have at least 30% of European works within their catalogue. This will be regulated across Europe by the country the company is based in. For example, with its European headquarters based in Ireland, the Irish Government will direct Apple that its Apple TV online streaming platform must have the 30% minimum standard or else cease broadcasting across the EU;
  • The upper threshold for administrative financial sanctions is set at €20m or 10 per cent of turnover, whichever is higher. In setting this threshold, ministers have said that consideration was given to similar measures in place under other legislation such as the Data Protection Act 2018 and relevant Central Bank legislation.
The Bill is an important piece of legislation, which will see the creation of robust regulation for online platforms, setting Ireland apart as one of the first countries in the world to do so in a systemic way. It is of note that Ireland will be responsible for regulating many of the major social media companies on behalf of all EU member states, in circumstances where companies such as Apple and Google maintain European headquarters in Ireland.

The general scheme will now go forward to the Oireachtas for pre-legislative scrutiny over the coming months, while consultation with technology companies is ongoing.

The General Scheme of the Online Safety Media Regulation Bill is available here.
Written by Zoe Richardson. 

Areas of Expertise

Public and Regulatory