The connection between the digital world and mental health is one that I am acutely concerned with particularly as a father of four young children and now in my role as Minister for Communications.
I worry for my children and their safety as they embrace the digital world in the years ahead which inevitably they must. Of course the internet is a wonderful tool to enjoy and learn from but it is also a dangerous place that combines anonymity and distance too easily.
Today is European Internet Safety Day. The day exists to remind us of the dangers that are online. It is also an opportunity for us as legislators to look at policies that must be introduced to keep up with reality in an effort to combat these dangers as best we can. My colleague the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is already providing for new and extended criminal offences in the area of digital harassment, stalking and revenge pornography and these are hugely significant new measures.
Another significant new measure which I intend to pursue at Government level is the creation of a statutory Digital Safety Commissioner that will have the power to compel social media sites to take down harmful abuse quickly. If a social media site does not comply with the Digital Safety Commissioner’s direction, the Commissioner could apply to the Circuit Court for a court order requiring compliance. The appointment of a Digital Safety Commissioner was a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission’s Report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety last year and I believe the time has come for this Office to be legislated for. Stories of parents desperately trying to make contact with social media operators to take down offensive material about their children are too frequent.
The Commissioner would also be tasked to promote digital safety particularly among children and young people, working in conjunction with the Ombudsman for Children and schools.
Of course there will be those who claim this is akin to censorship and an attack on the freedom of speech but I will not accept there is a place in this digital world for those who wish others dead; raped; disfigured and the list goes on.
Stories and statistics all point in the one direction – keyboard bullying and harassment has to be tackled quickly and the time for the appointment of a Digital Safety Commissioner is now.