Keeping Children Safe Online

Children’s Rights Alliance calls on Irish MEPs for tighter regulation of social media giants in next European Parliament

The Children’s Rights Alliance calls for EU election candidates to ensure a high bar is set at European level to regulate social media giants and protect children and young people’s safety online. 

The call came at a hustings event chaired by Ian Power, CEO of SpunOut with Dublin EU candidates Lynn Boylan (Sinn Féin), Ciarán Cuffe (Green Party), Clare Daly (Independent), Regina Doherty (Fine Gael), Sinead Gibney (Social Democrats), Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour Party) and Bríd Smith (People Before Profit.)

Speaking at the event, Noeline Blackwell, Online Safety Coordinator at the Children’s Rights Alliance said:

“We cannot sugar coat the current state of play for children and young people engaging with the online world. The internet can be an excellent source of information, education and connection for young people, but right now, it does not prioritise their right to be safe and free from harm online.

Cyberbullying remains a pervasive threat for young people online. There is growing evidence of just how manipulative algorithms can be when it comes to keeping children online for longer and driving them towards inappropriate and harmful content. 

Children in Ireland and throughout Europe are also at risk of being lured or threatened into being victims of child sexual abuse. Measures to deter children from accessing harmful material are next to useless, as children easily work out ways around them. The problem is growing in scale at an alarming rate.

Ireland and the EU are now beginning to regulate these companies, ending an era of self-regulation that lasted far too long. However, we see continuous push back from platforms against serious regulation and what is becoming ever more apparent is just how sophisticated and well-resourced digital giants are as a lobby at European level. We need champions for children and young people that will fight tooth and nail to ensure these platforms own their responsibility to design and maintain safe services for all who engage with them.

A huge cohort of the largest online platforms and services have now made Ireland their home. What they saw was an opportunity to maximise their profit. Now, they need to see how serious we are about our children’s safety and wellbeing online. Ireland is in a unique position to hold some of the biggest online services accountable. It is up to our EU election candidates to ensure this is not a wasted opportunity to address the online harms that are haunting children and young people.”

Young people from organisations including Jigsaw and Citywise took the opportunity to put questions to the EU candidates at the event. Areas of concern for the young people in attendance included:

  • Timely mental health care for young people
  • The importance of the youth voice being heard and given input into European Parliament decision-making
  • Amplifying Coco’s Law at European level
  • The need to tackle the far right and online misinformation