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Social media giants urged to fund new online safety regulator to tackle cyber-bullying


Senator Lynn Ruane. Photo: Tom Burke

Senator Lynn Ruane. Photo: Tom Burke

Senator Lynn Ruane. Photo: Tom Burke

Social media companies should be made to pay for support services for victims of cyber-bullying and fund a new online safety commissioner, TDs and senators have been told.

The call came as the family of a woman who had images of her decapitated body shared online said "everyday life is impossible" because of it.

Jackie Griffin died after a multi-vehicle crash on the M50 in Dublin in January. Graphic images taken at the scene were shared on social media afterwards.

"Everyday life is impossible, everything from travel, work and even our own ability to have an online presence," Ms Griffin's family said in a statement read out by Independent Senator Lynn Ruane at an Oireachtas Justice Committee hearing on online safety yesterday.

The family said the fact the accident happened in a public place does not mean Ms Griffin does not have a right to privacy.

"The damage it has caused our family has destroyed our faith in humanity and goes beyond the initial trauma to seeing the image, but has completely destroyed our emotional well being," the family statement read.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) told the committee it supports the criminalisation of sharing such images online.

Amid growing calls for the regulation of content shared online, the chief executive of the youth information website SpunOut.ie, Ian Power, said the Government's planned Online Safety Commissioner should receive a minimum budget of €10m.

He said if necessary it should be "funded by an industrial revenue-based levy on many highly profitable online multinationals" based in Ireland.

Professor James O'Higgins Norman from the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre in Dublin City University said lawmakers should consider making it a requirement for the social media industry to fund part of prevention and intervention measures.

"This could include asking the industry to supplement Government funding for psychological counselling services [for] children involved in cyber-bullying. This could also entail providing funding for helpline services which offer counselling and educational support in order to prevent future incidents," he said.

Mr Power said the commissioner should have a single, clearly advertised, central point of contact - by text - to encourage young people to report wrongdoing online.

Noeline Blackwell, the chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said criminal legislation is "entirely inadequate" to deal with issues like harassment, stalking, and voyeurism online and called for stronger user verification by social media companies.

The ICCL also called on TDs and senators to legislate on image-based sexual violence, known as revenge porn.

Elizabeth Farries, ICCL's information and privacy rights programme manager, said her organisation takes issue with the term because "it is not pornography, it's abuse".

"It is sexual abuse, and revenge is only one of a myriad of motivations, which principally are to violate a person's dignity and their autonomy.

"Image-based sexual abuse is a term from UK academics to better describe the non-consensual nature of this problem, either by creating and/or distributing private sexual images."

She said an absence of legislation means perpetrators often go unpunished and victims are left without protection or justice.

Irish Independent