On-line Security and Media Regulation Invoice: Social media companies going through hefty fines and prison legal responsibility in the event that they fail to satisfy new on-line security requirements
Social media companies could face fines of several million euros if they fail to remove harmful content in accordance with the new laws on online safety and media regulation. Online services, including YouTube, that refuse to remove criminal material could face fines of € 20 million, or 10 percent of their annual revenue, for non-compliance.
Last month the government announced new provisions in the final general scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulations Act, which will set up a new media commission to replace the Irish Broadcasting Authority.
The bill is the first law to address the video regulation of video sharing platforms, including YouTube. It is aimed at online sites with criminal content, cyber bullying, and content that can 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, aiming to achieve greater alignment between traditional linear TV and video-on-demand services such as RTÉ Player and Apple TV ensure.
The government introduced the legislation after the introduction of the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive in 2018, which regulates the EU-wide coordination of national legislation for all audiovisual media and covers both traditional television broadcasts and on-demand services.
The new provisions of the draft law build on the general system first announced in January 2020. The most important points include:
- The establishment of a new online security commission to deal with harmful online content, with two separate commissioners appointed to handle broadcasting and video-on-demand services. The online security commission will not act as an ombudsman for the public, but will work on standards and defined legal issues with social media platforms and not as a hotline for the public. It will have a limited scope in terms of private intelligence and will only investigate where the published content is criminal.
- The DPP is permitted to attempt to hold influential position holders in a particular online service criminally responsible if the particular online service fails to comply with a warning from the new online safety commission.
- The media commission, which also includes the online security commission, is to be financed through the introduction of industry taxes. Traditional broadcasters have paid for them in the past, but video-on-demand services and certain online services have to pay for them the first time.
- Video-on-demand services must register with the media commission so that an up-to-date list of these services can be kept.
- Video-on-demand services like Apple TV or Disney Plus must contain at least 30% of the European works in their catalog. This is regulated throughout Europe by the country in which the company is based. For example, the Irish government, with its European headquarters in Ireland, will instruct Apple that the Apple TV online streaming platform must have the minimum standard of 30% or cease broadcasting across the EU;
- The upper limit for administrative financial sanctions is EUR 20 million or 10% of sales, whichever is higher. In setting this threshold, Ministers stated that similar measures have been taken into account in other legislation such as the Data Protection Act 2018 and the relevant Central Bank legislation.
The bill is an important piece of legislation that provides for solid regulation for online platforms and marks Ireland as one of the first countries in the world to do this systematically. It should be noted that Ireland will be responsible for regulating many of the top social media companies on behalf of all EU member states when companies like Apple and Google have their European headquarters in Ireland.
The general system will now be forwarded to the Oireachtas for pre-legislative review in the coming months, while the consultation with technology companies is ongoing.
The general scheme of the Act on the Online Security Media Ordinance can be found here.