The new media regulator will be empowered to oblige social media companies, messaging services and videoconferencing sites to take measures to combat “cyber-flashing”, under plans approved by the Cabinet.
The criminal investigations against the alleged perpetrators of flashing incidents remain the responsibility of Lake Garda.
Media Secretary Catherine Martin on Tuesday received Cabinet approval for an amendment to the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill to include online flashing in a list of offenses already included in the new law.
The planned Coimisiún na Meán (Media Commission) – which will have an online safety officer – will be tasked with monitoring how websites, including social media platforms, are handling harmful content and ordering its removal.
It will draw up online safety codes and can impose fines of up to €20 million or 10 percent of revenue on social media companies that don’t comply with the codes.
The amendment aims to persuade Internet companies to take action when unsolicited images or videos are sent online.
Flashing is already a criminal offense where existing legislation defines it as a person exposing their genitals “with intent to cause fear, distress or alarm in another person”.
A spokesman for the media ministry said the change will allow the online safety officer to create mandatory safety codes. These codes apply to certain online service providers and oblige them to take measures to combat online flashing.
He said the security codes would apply to specific providers “based on risk assessments and could include social media services, messaging services and video conferencing services.”
The spokesman said it remained Garda’s role to investigate allegations of criminal conduct.
People are still advised to report cases of lightning to Lake Garda if they wish to prosecute the perpetrator.
There are also plans to gradually introduce a system whereby individuals can submit complaints about harmful online content directly to the Media Commission. The spokesman said the commission could refer such complaints to the internet company and/or the Garda.
The Commission’s powers will include investigating allegations of non-compliance by internet companies with the online safety codes it has set up and issuing notices to end non-compliance.
It will be able to block access to certain online services and issue content restriction notices to internet companies regarding individual harmful online content. Ultimately, it will be able to impose financial penalties for non-compliance.
Subject to Oireachtas approval, the government intends to enact the law later this year.
The Commission is expected to be formally set up before the end of March 2023.