Published date: 17 Apr 2024

New Online Safety Code must deal with algorithms exposing children to potentially harmful content

The Children’s Rights Alliance is calling on Coimisiún na Meán and the Irish government to regulate social media platforms use of algorithms to urgently address the real risk of harm to children through exposure to algorithm systems which recommend inappropriate content on children.

Tuesday night’s episode of Prime Time Investigates’ ‘13 on TikTok’, as well as a study published today by Dublin City University’s Anti-Bullying Centre, put into perspective the extreme nature of harmful material present online directed at and consumed by children and young people. They add to already serious concerns about the safety of the product that platforms are offering to users.

There is a growing realisation that while social media, including TikTok, is valued by children for its capacity to entertain, to communicate and to learn, the processes and algorithms used to keep children engaged online, while profitable for the companies, run the risk of doing real, serious harm to children such as suggestive content referencing self-harm and suicide.

The Children’s Rights Alliance calls on the platforms to ensure that they prioritise the safety of children in their products and processes, they have the knowledge and ability to do this – all that is missing is the will to do so. It is now the time for the Irish government and media regulator to step up and ensure that if platforms fail to do take the necessary steps, that they are held accountable.

Noeline Blackwell, Online Safety Co-ordinator at the Children’s Rights Alliance said:

“The revelations of the recent RTE and DCU investigations are incredibly worrying and certainly not where we want to be when it comes to protecting our children and young people online. To find that children as young as thirteen – perhaps even younger – are being led down damaging rabbit holes with spiralling levels of negative content simply cannot be something we sit back and allow to continue.

Social media platforms create the digital pathways by which our children and young people receive content. It is therefore up to the platforms to build those systems as safely as they possibly can. This means building systems that do not persuade or allow our children to be lured into harm. It also means ensuring age-appropriate safeguards are in place and working effectively.

If the platforms will not do this, the State must. Currently, the Irish media commissioner, Coimisiún na Meán, is preparing regulations in the form of an Online Safety Code, which by law must work to protect children from illegal and harmful content. Part of that protection should address how the digital companies push or suggest content to children, but in the draft recently published, this is not going to be regulated. On the contrary, proposed Online Safety Code to protect children from age–inappropriate content is troublingly permissive, allowing each platform excessive leeway. Essentially, it will be business as usual for the platforms. Coimisiún na Meán have the opportunity now to really stand up to the platforms and legally mandate them to protect children online.

We hope the spotlight these recent investigations have shed on the very real and dangerous offline consequences of unregulated social media algorithms prompt an urgent engagement from the Government and Coimisiún na Meán to ensure that social media companies are obliged to build safe systems for children who use their products. Anything less is to risk children’s safety for social media platform profits and is not acceptable”


For media queries contact:

Gillian Hogan: [email protected] /083 063 4290

Notes to Editors:

  • Spokespeople from the Children’s Rights Alliance are available for media interviews.
  • Prime Time’s ‘13 on TikTok’ can be viewed here
  • DCU’s study ‘Recommending Toxicity: The role of algorithmic recommender functions on YouTube Shorts and TikTok in promoting male supremacist influencers’ is available here.

About the Children’s Rights Alliance
Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites 150 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. Further information is available at: or on Twitter, @ChildRightsIRL

For media queries, please contact:

Emma Archbold

Campaigns and Communications Director