Get the Facts
Your Rights Online FAQs
Here we answer some frequently asked questions from young people about online rights and internet use.
What does the law say?
Before we begin it is important to distinguish under Irish law, between an activity which can be a criminal offence, a civil wrong or both. A criminal offence is an offence that involves the State bringing proceedings against the offender – if the offender is found guilty, they may be obliged to pay a fine and/or serve a prison sentence, which will be specified in the relevant piece of legislation. A civil wrong is an offence that involves the victim bringing proceedings against the offender. This usually occurs where a person’s legal rights have been breached by someone else, such as a property right, a reputational right or a contractual right. In civil proceedings, the victim usual seeks financial compensation for the infringement of their right. With many offences, while the legislation may consider them to be a criminal offence, the victim can also seek to obtain compensation via civil proceedings for the same loss or injury.
Please note: Following recent amends to legislation and the introduction of Coco’s Law, updates to the legal information in the Connected, Lockers, and Be in Ctrl Resources are in progress. Please familiarise yourself with the most up to date legislation here.
1. Can I say or do whatever I want online?
No. Anything which is an offence offline – be it defamation, harassment, hate speech, breach of privacy etc (these offences are explained below) – is also an offence when committed online. The law governing behaviour on the internet is fundamentally the same as the law which existed in pre-internet times. The main difference is that there are now specific laws to deal with the type of behaviour which can only be performed online.
You don’t have to identify a person by name to defame them. If a person could be identified from any of the material published by the fake profile, they can sue for defamation.
2. Making a complaint to a social media platform.
If someone has said something about you on a social media platform, or has posted a photograph of video about you, that you consider is unlawful for any of the reasons listed below, the first thing you should do is request that the platform takes it down. All social media platforms have their own complaints procedures, often referred to as “notice and takedown” procedures. These require you to fill out an online form, identifying the particular piece of content you find offensive, and why you want it taken down.
Due to the huge number of users that they have, platforms can be slow to deal with your request. It is believed that the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, which is due to become law in 2022, will create new guidelines for social media platforms as to how quickly they must respond to complaints from their users. Additionally, you may have to make a complaint to the Gardaí if a criminal offence has been committed, or you may want to talk to your own solicitor if a civil wrong has been committed. The most common types of offences committed online are discussed below.
3. What are the most common types of offences which are committed online?
This is an offence of saying/writing something which damages another person’s reputation. Generally speaking, a statement will need to be untrue to be defamatory, and will need to be made to someone other than the person whose reputation is damaged. Online defamation can occur via email, social media post, comment or video and is subject to the same law as defamation in a newspaper, for example. Learn more.
Harassment has traditionally been defined as causing someone alarm or fear by persistently following, watching, pestering, besetting or communicating with him or her. Harassing someone online, via email, text/ direct message, tweet or video is now governed by The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 (commonly referred to as “Coco’s Law”), and is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 2 years. Learn more.
Non-consensual sharing of intimate images:
The sharing of intimate images without a person’s consent – behaviour that is commonly referred to as intimate-image abuse– is a criminal offence under Coco’s Law, and can result in a prison sentence of up to 7 years.
If intimate images of a person are taken and/or distributed without their consent, but are not done so with the specific aim of harming their subject, then this would be punishable by a prison sentence of up to 12 months. This is designed to cover the taking/sharing of content where the subject is not personally known to the person publishing it, meaning the element of “revenge” is missing. Learn More
The sending of intimate images to a child (ie a person under the age of 18) is a criminal offence, and can lead to a term of imprisonment of up to 5 years. Irish law recognises, however, that teenagers are often involved in sexting with each other. The Courts are reluctant to criminalise this type of behaviour when it does not involve adults. Learn More.
4. What can I do if someone is anonymously trolling me online?
Everyone has a right to freedom of expression, and the ability to express your opinions anonymously is an important element of this, as it allows people to expose wrongdoing and speak against political oppression without fear of reprisal. Anonymity, however, also has its downside. If someone has anonymously posted a piece of content online which you feel has violated any of your personal rights, the first thing you should do is report this to the social media platform. Social media platforms have different policies for moderating content, and they will review the report to see if it is in violation of their policies. A legal expert could also advise you about the options available to pursue the matter. If it is something that you are very concerned about, you should contact An Garda Síochána.
5. Do I still own the copyright to my photos/ videos if I post them online?
Generally speaking, yes. If you create an original piece of work – compose a piece of music, take a photograph, even write a tweet of a few words – you automatically own the copyright to that work. If you were jointly involved in its creation with someone else, such as with a piece of video, then you would jointly own the copyright with that other person. When you place it on the internet, you still usually own the copyright, meaning that someone else cannot copy it or use it without your permission. This is true whether you post it onto your own personal website, or onto YouTube, TikTok etc. If someone is using your creation without your permission, you can sue them for breach of copyright under the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000.
The situation is different if you post the content to a social media platform whose terms and conditions allow them to use that content for their own purposes, or allows other users of the platform to re-post/ share your content. When you sign up to a social media platform, you generally have to agree to your content being used in this manner.
6. Is it an offence to publish any type of content that includes me without my permission?
Publishing a video/photo/audio of someone else without their permission might constitute an offence depending on the nature of the content. If it is an intimate photo or video of you, the person publishing it may be committing a criminal offence under sections 2 or 3 of the 2020 Act (see paragraph 3 above). The publication, without your consent, of material that includes you may also allow you to bring a civil claim for either defamation, breach of copyright, privacy, or your data protection rights.
With a photograph, for example, the copyright rests with the person taking the photo, rather than the person(s) featured in the photo. If it is a piece of content to which you own the copyright, either solely or jointly, you may be able to take a civil case against them (see para 5 above). Even if you don’t own the copyright – ie it is a photo or video of you taken by someone else – then its publication may breach your rights, but only under certain circumstances.
If you pose for a photo or video for someone, generally speaking the photographer/ videographer can use that material in whatever way they want. If taken in a public place, the publication of that photo will generally not be unlawful unless the photo reveals something private about you, such as where you live, or may be considered harmful/ upsetting to you. Even if they have taken your picture without your knowledge, generally speaking they won’t be breaking any law by publishing that photo so long as it was not taken in a private place and without your consent.
The GDPR provides for an exception to the unlawful processing of data under Recital 18, which covers “Personal or household activities”. This means that if you use someone else’s data for your own personal purposes, such as keeping their address or phone number in a diary, then you aren’t breaching their data protection rights. This is generally considered to extend to the use of other people’s information on your social media account, so long as you are not using that account for business reasons.
7. What do I need to know about how my personal information is used by social media platforms I sign up to?
When signing up to use a platform such as Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter or Facebook, you have to consent to that platform using your personal data for their own commercial purposes. Personal data includes everything from your age, gender and where you work, to your interests, browsing history, what photos/videos you’ve uploaded or liked. The platforms use this personal data to create a “profile” of you, meaning they can then target specific advertisements at you because they know that you may be interested in a particular product or service.
With this type of advertising, the platform targets you because of your interest, but does not reveal your identity to the advertiser. Social media platform cannot share any personal information about you which would allow other companies to target you individually with offers by phone, email etc.
8. Can I ask a company for a copy of what personal information they have about me?
Yes, you can request access to the personal data a company or organisation holds about you. Article 15 of the GDPR provides that you have the right to get a copy of your data, free of charge, in an accessible format. This is known as a “Data Access Request”. The company should reply to you within 1 month and they have to give you a copy of your personal data and any relevant information about how the data has been used, or is being used.
9. Can I request for information about me to be removed from the internet?
Yes, the GDPR provides for two specific types of request to be made. You have the right to have data rectified under Article 16 of the GDPR, and the right to have it removed under Article 17 – the latter is commonly referred to as the “right to be forgotten.” You can request that data which is inaccurate to be rectified, and you can request data which is being processed without your consent, of which is no longer relevant, to be removed.
The right to be forgotten is most commonly used in relation to search engines, where information that you object to is being returned as a result when your name is input into the search engine. To have the information rectified or removed, you should first ask the party that is processing it – for example the search engine – to do so voluntarily. If they fail to do so, you can go to court for an order which obliges them to do so.
10. The Digital age of consent in Ireland is 16 - does that mean it is illegal for me to sign up to a social media account if I am under 16?
The Digital Age of Consent in Ireland is 16 under section 31 of the Data Protection Act 2018. This means that in order to legally process the personal data of a person under the age of 16, a social media platform must make reasonable efforts to obtain the consent of that person’s parents. It is the social media platform, rather than the child, which could be in trouble if someone who is under 16 signs up themselves. Additionally, most social media platforms provide that a person under the age of 13 cannot set up an account even if they have their parent’s consent.