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Samaritans Ireland submission on Online Harms to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport, and Media
Opening Statement by Ciaran Moore, Helpline Manager, Samaritans Ireland, to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport, and Media
Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill
Thursday, 15 July 2021
I would like to begin by thanking the Chair and members of the committee for inviting Samaritans Ireland here today to discuss the General Scheme of the Bill and correlations between online harms and the impact they can have on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. I am joined today by Louise Hamra, our Policy Officer.
Samaritans is the only all-island 24-hour emotional support helpline. We have over 2,000 volunteers in 21 branches, responding to approximately 1,500 calls for help every day. We believe every life lost to suicide is a tragedy and we work tirelessly to reach more people and make suicide prevention a priority.
As part of our vision that fewer people die by suicide, Samaritans has undertaken extensive research around best practices online and developed clear guidance on staying safe in the online environment. These guidelines were co-designed by young people with lived experiences of self-harm and suicidal feelings and those with experience of supporting others at risk.
The internet can be an invaluable resource for individuals experiencing self-harm and suicidal feelings, however, it can also provide access to content that can be distressing and triggering.
In our written submission to the Committee, we specifically examined the context in which suicide and self-harm exist within an online environment and the best ways to minimise online harms without silencing or stigmatising those with lived experiences.
We would like to recommend the following matters are considered and incorporated within the proposed legislation:
- Suicide and self-harm are complex and multifaceted as are the recovery journeys, and what can be a trigger for one user could be helpful to another. Understanding the potential risks and benefits to users is critical when determining what content should be removed. We recommend the development of guidelines and policies to encourage safe posting and to also ensure regulations around the removal of content are drafted in ways which will not further stigmatise those with self-harm or suicidal thoughts and/or experiences.
- The prevalence and placement of harmful online content should be explicitly identified as a key risk of harm. Measures should be included in the Bill requiring service providers to both identify instances of inappropriate display or inappropriate prevalence, of content with a risk of harm. The introduction of ethical algorithms would allow for the minimisation of prolific consumption of difficult content. The adoption of such policies could reduce so-called ‘doom scrolling’ and encourage help seeking without inhibiting individuals’ rights to view public content.
- Platforms should also consider how they can provide support and signposting to people who have viewed distressing content online, and how to communicate sensitively with users whose content needs to be removed or edited. Companies must take measures to protect and promote the wellbeing of all persons who moderate self-harm and suicide content and should be held accountable both for their moderation policies and the support procedures in place for moderators.
Samaritans Ireland welcomes legislation for online safety and would encourage amending the Bill to specifically provide for the establishment of an adequately resourced Online Safety Commissioner as part of the new Media Commission. This measure would ensure the complexities around delineating harmful and helpful content relating to suicide and self-harm are appropriately managed with codes of practice being developed in consultation with experts.
Thank you for your time and we are open to questions.