Children can not be allowed suffer because of inaction by social media companies says MEP Maria Walsh

Report from CyberSafeKids, released this morning, shows social media companies have been shockingly unresponsive as parents fight to protect their children

IRELAND: Midlands-North-West MEP Maria Walsh has, today, slammed the inaction by social media companies over the removal of harmful content, particularly in the context of content relating to children. Walsh was responding to a report published this morning by Irish charity CyberSafeKids, which details appalling examples of social media companies being unresponsive when parents have tried to get harmful content removed from sites. 

MEP Walsh, who authored the European Parliament’s first report around mental health this summer, said we have a duty to protect our children from any online behaviour which causes them distress or harm. She is calling for immediate action here in Ireland and indeed across the European Union, to compel social media companies to instantly respond and engage with parents in their efforts to have distressing material removed. 

“Social media has lots of great benefits, but sadly it has a dark side too. It is one thing to try to ignore a bully in the playground, but social media enables a bully to follow a child everywhere. We need to protect our young people, and particularly our children, from harmful content and from online bullying. When a parent or guardian raises a concern on behalf of their child, it needs immediate action. According to the CyberSafeKids report, that’s not the case at the moment and that’s simply not acceptable on any level,” she stressed. 

In addition to authoring the Parliament’s first report around mental health, MEP Walsh also championed a file entitled “Combating Gender Based Violence: Cyber Violence” in Parliament in late 2021. The file related to the eradication of gender-based cyberviolence and was passed by an overwhelming 73% of MEPs last December. One of the priorities within the report was to ensure online crimes were treated with equal severity as offline crimes – stalking, abuse, lack of consent (i.e. sharing of pornographic content), etc. The file followed a long strand of work for MEP Walsh, who previously worked on a file dedicated to

making gender-based violence a European level crime. It received the support of the Parliament in September 2021. 

Interestingly, these files were taken on board when the Digital Services Act was debated, and eventually agreed, earlier this year. The landmark legislation ensured the effective carry over of the same principles of content and disinformation from existing laws into online content. At the time, the EU described the Digital Services Act as “a world first in the field of digital regulation”. The Act aims to make the internet safer for people by implementing rules for digital service providers, including social media platforms, search engines and online marketplaces. 

“The legislation is in place, but the social media companies need to step up and take responsibility. Unfortunately, the internet and social media allow children to take risks that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Technology is wonderful and is something we can all embrace, but the safety and mental health of our young people must always be be our primary focus. We need guarantees from social media companies and we need them now. The time for excuses has long passed,” she added.