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IMO AGM will debate European-wide social media regulatory agency

As the workings of Facebook and other social media operations have hit the headlines in the US and elsewhere in recent months, the IMO AGM will debate a motion proposed by Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Matthew Sadlier that calls for a serious ramping-up of Governmental regulation in the area.

“We have age-grade television programmes for a reason; cinema has an age grade, radio has regulation as well,” Dr Sadlier told the Medical Independent (MI) prior to the AGM.

“Yet social media is the ‘wild west’. These are specifically social media companies; they are not public utilities — they are treated as though they are public utilities quite often, but they are not.

“They are profit-making corporations who design very complex algorithms to ensure that people utilise their platforms frequently, and as such, I think we need [greater] regulation. “

The motion proposed by Dr Sadlier calls on “the Government and the European Commission to introduce a specific social media regulatory agency which will only licence companies that can ensure the security of children (through verification of identity when registering accounts) when using social media, as well as ensuring that their platforms are not used for the exploitation of vulnerable individuals”.

Dr Sadlier insisted that this motion is not about censorship. “I believe in free speech. But communications has to have limits. We have seen cases on the extreme end of grooming and targeting. That is the extreme end of the spectrum,” he said.

“We also see things such as where people of a young age are exposed to advertising, and not just normal advertising, but advertising that is algorithmically driven towards very specific users. It’s not like driving down the road and there is a just a billboard there on the side of the road.

“[Social media advertising] knows what you are interested in, knows what you search, knows what your hobbies are. From that perspective, there has to be some sort of control brought in.”

Separately, also in the general motions section of the AGM, Dr Sadlier is proposing a motion that “calls on the Minister for Health and the Inspector of Mental Health Hospitals to review legislation and regulations on children admitted to adult units, so as to allow for limited flexibility which would allow for the admission of children to adult units when this is in the best clinical interest of the patient, taking into account proximity to [their] 18th birthday and nature of illness.”

Dr Sadlier told MI that the cases he is looking at are “where people [under the age of 18] develop mental illness that requires intervention, where the acute intervention itself is likely to extend beyond their 18th birthday”.

“I think there would only need to be changes made to the guidelines; I don’t necessarily think that it would require legislative change. But it certainly would need guideline changes.”

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