Social Democrats TD for Wicklow, Jennifer Whitmore, has renewed her call for the appointment of an Online Safety Commissioner following the stark findings of new report from Cyber Safety Ireland.

Deputy Whitmore, who is the party’s spokesperson on Children, said:

“The report revealed that more than 90 percent of children aged between eight and 12 own a device which can connect to the internet and a majority have been contacted by strangers online.

“The Government must act quickly to reflect the increasing online threats facing children and young people as we continue to live with Covid-19. I am extremely alarmed at the findings of this report which indicate that that the increased use of devices during Covid-19 has led to a heightened risk to children.

“It will be of great concern to parents that 61 percent of children have been contacted by a stranger online. The findings reveal another worrying trend in that 30 percent of children have friends or followers on social media platforms who they do not know in real life.

“In addition, a third of children said they had come across disturbing content with an additional 12 percent saying they weren’t sure.

“There is a pressing need to provide for the safety of children and young people as they spend more time on devices during Covid-19.

“Clearly, self-regulation has not worked for online industries. An Online Safety Commissioner would enable greater policing and promotion of safety online and could tackle online threats on multiple fronts, including undertaking education and research programmes for parents and children; regulation, empowerment and enforcement.

“To be effective, an Online Safety Commissioner would need to be appropriately resourced with robust statutory powers to sanction companies that do not comply. To complement the Commissioner’s work, more resources would be required for An Garda Síochána to investigate crimes involving images of child abuse.

“Previous attempts to legislate on this issue have failed. It is now time to take this matter seriously to prevent any further increase in online threats to children.

“As blended learning in our schools becomes more widespread in the context of Covid-19, the issue of child cyber safety must be addressed to reflect our greater dependency on devices and online content.”

September 10, 2020

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