Safer Internet Day: Online Safety Council Releases First Progress Report

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The National Advisory Council for Online Safety has released its first progress report, outlining the issues facing internet users in Ireland.

Last summer, the Irish Government announced it would be rolling out an Action Plan for Online Safety. As well as the creation of a single access point on Gov.ie for educational resources, digital resources for schoolchildren and legislation for new criminal offences, the establishment of an advisory council was a key element of the plan.

To mark Safer Internet Day (5 February), the National Advisory Council for Online Safety has published its first report, bringing together online safety experts from academia, industry, Government and NGOs. Member organisations include Age Action, the Data Protection Commission, Webwise and the ISPCC.

In Ireland, CSO data from 2018 found that 82pc of respondents in the country had used the internet within a three-month period, rising to 97pc among those aged between 16 and 44. According to the Growing Up In Ireland project, 23pc of nine-year-olds have some form of social media profile.

Challenges for online safety

The report outlines the main challenges for the council, which range from the need for stronger content regulation from platforms, to online bullying and protection from internet scammers. The development of clear guidance materials is an important aim, including content tailored for parents, older people, people with disabilities, and educators, among others.

Since its establishment, the council has met three times and has established research subgroups on online safety research and guidance as well as a proposed approach to the development of a best-practices guide for platforms.

An extensive research survey

The council also plans to conduct a high-level research survey to provide a solid evidence base for policy issues. It said: “Central to the work of the council is the analysis of national and international research, and the dissemination of key findings from that research.

“When established in October 2018, it was immediately apparent to the council that while there is much research activity which is related to the topics of online safety taking place in Ireland, this research tends to vary in its focus and quality.”

Standardisation in online best practices is also to be considered, and a call for tenders and research proposals is likely to be issued some time in 2019. The best-practices guide for online platforms and interactive services is earmarked for publication in the final quarter of the year.

Minister of State Seán Canney, TD, who is chair of the council, stated: “Online safety is a priority for this Government, and the National Advisory Council for Online Safety has a key role to play in making the online world a safer place for our citizens, especially our most vulnerable.

“While the work of the council is in early stages, good progress has been made and I look forward to working with our members over the coming months to deliver on our work programme.”