Facebook to advise on cyber watchdog

Social media and tech giants, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google, are to meet the Irish Government about plans to set up a cyber watchdog for online abuse and bullying.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten will meet with two other cabinet colleagues to decide who will create the role of the digital safety commissioner.

One of the functions of the new watchdog would be to fast-track disputes over privacy, online harassment, and defamation.

The Irish Examiner understands Mr Naughten will hold formal meetings with the heads of major social media operators here, as well as with search engine Google, which runs Youtube.

Proposals are for the new watchdog to get statutory powers that would compel social media players, such as Facebook and Twitter, to remove abusive material.

Minister Naughten wants to talk with the CEOs of the tech giants and seek their input into the setting-up of the new commissioner, especially given that the companies have their European hubs here.

Minister Naughten will outline his concerns and plans this week, when he attends a child-safety conference being hosted by Google in Dublin.

However, he has to also meet Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, as well as Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, so it can be decided which department will have responsibility for the new watchdog.

This meeting is expected to take place after the Dáil reconvenes, in early May.

One of the key questions for the new digital-safety commissioner position is what powers it will have to compel powerful companies, like Facebook or Twitter, to remove online material.

Minister Naughten has highlighted cases of parents seeking to have harmful posts, and social media chatter, about their children taken down.

A number of suicides of young people have also been linked to online bullying on different websites.

The new commissioner will promote digital safety and will work with schools and young people. This would be similar to the system in Australia.

A guideline or code on agreed take-down procedures by online publishers would also set the agenda, when decided by the minister overseeing the new digital safety office.

Under initial proposals, if a social media operator refused to take down offensive or harmful material, the company could be forced to do so, if the new commissioner makes an application to the courts.

This process would be fast-tracked, because concerned families often complain about the length of time it can take to remove harmful social media posts.