Regulator targets harmful video-sharing content with updated code and fines of up to €20m

Coimisiún na Meán accused of doing ‘U-turn’ by removing measures to address toxic algorithms

Online platforms would have to put parental controls on content “which may impair the physical, mental or moral development of children under 16″ under a new safety code that was on Monday submitted to the European Commission for approval.

Coimisiún na Meán, the new regulator for broadcasting in Ireland, said the code aimed to protect people using the internet from harmful content and to hold video-sharing platforms to account. Platforms will face fines of up to €20 million for breaches of rules under the code, which is to be legally binding from later this year.

However, the regulator was accused of doing a “U-turn” by removing measures to address toxic algorithms from the final text.

A previous draft of the code included requirements for social media companies to turn off “recommender systems” based on intimately profiling people, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said.


ICCL senior fellow Dr Johnny Ryan said: “This is a dangerous U-turn. In December, Coimisiún na Meán’s draft code showed the world what leadership in reining in Big Tech looks like.

“Everybody supports giving users the freedom to decide for themselves whether they can be profiled and fed algorithmic content. We are dismayed that Coimisiún na Meán has removed this essential measure has been removed from the code”.

Recommender systems “push hate and extremism into people’s feeds and inject content that glorifies self-harm and suicide into children’s feeds”, the ICCL said.

When asked on RTÉ radio why algorithms were not included in the code, Niamh Hodnett, the online safety commissioner, said the EU Digital Services Act required platforms to put in place mitigation measures to address the harmful effects of recommender systems. She said Coimisiún na Meán was supporting the European Commission with investigations into “toxic feeds” and “harmful algorithms”.

“I do think that the platforms are all aware of the risks in relation to toxic feeds and in light of the code restricting that type of harmful content and in light of the Digital Services Act addressing the toxic feeds, I think we’ve all set out quite clearly the behavioural change we expect from the platforms,” she added. “And if that doesn’t come about, we will be supervising them and we are taking enforcement actions in relation to this.”

The new code will be applied to video-sharing platforms with their EU headquarters in Ireland, obliging tech companies to protect users by prohibiting the uploading of content associated with cyberbullying, the promotion of self-harm or suicide, and eating disorders. The code also seeks to protect users from incitement to hatred or violence, terrorism, child abuse material, racism and xenophobia.

Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and X, formerly Twitter, are among the 10 named video-sharing platforms that have been designated by the regulator to fall under the terms of the code. It will require platforms to have age-verification measures where appropriate and to use these to prevent children from encountering pornography or gratuitous violence online.

The regulator will require platforms to provide parental controls for content “which may impair the physical, mental, or moral development of children under 16″.

The final version of the code will form part of Coimisiún na Meán’s wider Online Safety Framework. The regulator said the framework gave the tools to address the “root causes” of harm online, including the availability of illegal content, “the harmful impacts of recommender systems, and inadequate protections for children on social media services”.

Ms Hodnett said the updated code was an important step forward to hold platforms to account for keeping people safe online. She said there was a great deal of harmful content online, including “the most grave” child abuse material.

“Our code seeks to address that and also terrorist content online, as well as cyberbullying, the promotion of eating and feeding disorders, self-harm and suicide,” she said.

“All platforms will have to comply with our Online Safety Code. It’s not an optional code, it’s underpinned by significant administrative sanctions up to 10 per cent of turnover or €20 million.”

Ms Hodnett said alongside parental control measures, a “whole of society approach” was required as well as education for parents and children on the harms and risks of online content.

Jack White

Jack White

Jack White is a reporter for The Irish Times