Online safety deadline looms for digital businesses

Due to Covid-19 and other pressures are social media, telecoms, e-commerce and internet firms ready for the 19 September deadline?

The new Online Safety & Media Regulation Bill heralds a new era for content moderation and accountability in Ireland.

But the question is will firms operating in the social media, e-commerce and telecoms space – effectively digital businesses – be ready?

“The Bill will allow the Online Safety Commissioner to set out how social media companies must moderate harmful content”

The EU had set a timeline of 19 September for the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) to be transposed however, with Covid-19 Ireland, along with the majority of EU states, will miss this deadline, but it is coming.

Safety of consumers is paramount

Ahead of its appearance on the statute books, PwC is advising companies that are likely to be impacted by this new law, these include social media services, public boards and forums, internet service providers, e-commerce platforms and private online storage services, to begin to prepare for these new measures as soon as possible.

“The Bill will have major implications for online services, fundamentally altering how harmful content will be moderated,” explained Damian Byrne, assurance partner at PwC Ireland.

“The scope is broad and companies that facilitate any sharing of content online by users may come into scope over time. Its introduction will see these companies having to comply with new online safety codes enforced by the new Online Safety Commissioner. The Bill will set a clear expectation for these companies to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their users.”

When law, these new government measures are expected to make radical changes to the management of online content.  The new legislation will break new ground in regulating harmful online content posted on online services. The key goal being to make online content safer for all users.

The proposed Bill will see an Online Safety Commissioner established as part of a new Media Commission, replacing the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, who will have responsibility for the new regulations.

The new Media Commission will have the power to designate online services to be regulated under the new regime. Harmful content will be the key focus area, this includes material that is a criminal offence to disseminate, that is considered cyberbullying material or that promotes self-harm.

“Most social media companies will already have well established content moderation or trust and safety teams with detailed standards and safety measures developed in-house,” said Byrne.

“However, to date there has been little external accountability.  These organisations will now be subject to new reporting as well as external review by agents appointed by the Commissioner. For companies with their EU Headquarters in Ireland, the State will become the Regulator on a cross-EU basis for audiovisual content disseminated on these online services. PwC is therefore advising companies impacted by these new regulations to start preparing – put a Roadmap in place, undertake a readiness assessment and engage early with the Regulator.”

Who will be impacted by the new Bill?

  • The Bill sets out a broad range of companies that will be impacted these include:
  • Social media services
  • Public boards and forums
  • Online gaming services
  • Ecommerce services
  • Private communication services
  • Private online storage services 
  • Online search engines
  • Internet service providers (Including Telecommunications Companies)

Companies that fail to regulate harmful content posted on their platforms will face reprimands up to and including fines.

“The Bill will allow the Online Safety Commissioner to set out how social media companies must moderate harmful content,” said Bertie Murphy, head of Customer Experience at PwC Advisory.

“Given the scale, visibility and accessibility to content we’d anticipate large social media companies to be regulated first.  We urge all social media companies to start preparing now including putting a Roadmap in place, undertaking a readiness assessment and to plan for early engagement with the Regulator.”

Written by John Kennedy (

Published: 14, 2020