Social media sites could be blocked or hit with large fines when found to be promoting harmful content, under new Government plans.
It comes after a new national survey of parents and children found that more than a quarter of young people have encountered harmful content online.
The content highlighted by young people includes hate speech, violent and gory images and websites promoting unhealthy eating.
Around a quarter of young people also said they have been upset by the prevalence of bullying and people being nasty to each other online.
Launching the report this morning, the Arts and Media Minister Catherine Martin said new legislation will penalise social media companies for promoting harmful content.
She said the legislation will ensure the “era of self-regulation” is over for social media companies.
“These platforms will be held responsible. They will have to sign on to codes and there will be sanctions there,” she said. “Financial penalties of €20m or 10% of their turnover, whichever is the highest, compelling them to take action and, if needs be, blocking the offending online service in Ireland.”
Minister Martin also warned that underage use of social media is a “very real issue” – with 26% of Nine to 10-year-olds saying they have an online profile.
“When it comes to children, there are particular risks that need to be managed,” she said.
“There are also significant differences between the age categories of children regarding certain online risks, such as bullying, and these differences need to be accounted for in order to ensure a safe and trusting online environment.”
The report found that most children remain positive about their experience online with the vast majority agreeing that there are good elements to it.
It found that parents and carers have different perceptions about their children’s experience online – with 53% of carers saying they help when their child encounters something that bothers them but just 19% of children saying they talk to their parents when they have been upset.
For adults, the most common problem encountered online was being contacted by strangers.
Some 13% said they have been contacted by people they don’t know – with 8% saying it happens every month and 3% saying every week.