Monday 16 September 2019

Facebook says it shouldn't pay for a new watchdog to protect young online

Concerned: Niamh Sweeney, Facebook head of public policy, said funding a new online watchdog would draw criticism. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Concerned: Niamh Sweeney, Facebook head of public policy, said funding a new online watchdog would draw criticism. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Adrian Weckler, Wayne O'Connor and Luke Byrne

Multi-billion dollar tech firm Facebook says it should not pay to help set up a new watchdog to protect children online.

But the tech giant is now in the crosshairs of regulators in Europe and at home.

The European Commission wants more regulation of Facebook's controversial political advertising in the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the US.

The social network giant has told an Oireachtas committee it was concerned providing funding for a new child protection office would lead to it being criticised.

Facebook's head of public policy Niamh Sweeney said the company shouldn't have to pay to set up and run the new watchdog. "I suspect if it was funded by us, that would draw its own criticism," she claimed.

Ms Sweeney added freedom of expression was a cornerstone of the internet and it was important creating a watchdog did not limit people's ability to engage online.

She welcomed an opportunity to work with politicians and officials to create a legal definition of "harmful communications" to use against damaging content and delete it.

The Digital Safety Commissioner Bill, currently before the Oireachtas, proposes creating an office responsible for oversight and regulating companies. It would force firms to remove harmful online materials from their websites.

Department of Communications officials said there was a need for a regulatory body to monitor online platforms such as Facebook and Google - where harmful images and videos may be available or sent to vulnerable users.

Department assistant secretary Patricia Cronin said officials were examining how the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) could be used. The BAI currently regulates public and commercial broadcasters.

"A regulatory body will have to be established. It will be either a new one or an existing one and clearly the BAI is in the frame for that," she said.

Meanwhile, in Lisbon, European Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourova said social networks need to be controlled more tightly because of their political influence.

"It is time to address non-transparent political advertising and the misuse of people's personal data," Ms Jourova said at the Web Summit.

"In our online world, the risk of interference and manipulation has never been so high. The Cambridge Analytica case has been a wake-up call that sent shockwaves through our democratic systems," she said.

Cambridge Analytica controversially used confidential data supplied by Facebook to target voters in the Brexit campaign.

On Monday, Facebook finally stopped showing Mr Trump's campaign ads, which were branded racist.

The adverts featured an immigrant convicted of killing two police officers.

"This ad violates Facebook's advertising policy against sensational content so we have rejected it," the company said.

Irish Independent

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