A 16-year-old from north Co Dublin will tell the Taoiseach later today that Ireland needs to take a lead on protecting children online.
Donnacha Lehehan will meet Micheál Martin as part of UNICEF's #KidsTakeOver campaign, which sees young people take key roles in media, politics, business, sport and entertainment to express their concerns about what global leaders should be focusing on.
The teenager is expected to voice his concerns about issues like online privacy, disinformation and the mental health impacts of social media, as well as to call for greater protection for children online.
He said: "My generation depend on the internet. We use it constantly. We connect with friends, work, play, create and collaborate all through the internet. However, that dependency also makes children and young people extremely vulnerable to scams, doxxing, and cyber bullying, which is becoming a lot more common.
"Social media is designed to be extremely addictive, and I question how positive that is for our physical and mental health. A real danger of social media is that it is so new, and we don't fully understand how it works on our brains and the long-term effects it may have on us.
"In many ways, our experience on social media is influenced by algorithms that are designed to meet the business models of the technology companies - not the interests of our society. However, many of these companies have their European Headquarters here in Ireland. And therefore, does Ireland not have a responsibility to ensure their practices meet the highest standards in terms of protecting children’s rights? We have the power to act, and Ireland should lead, not follow."
Heralding Donnacha’s message that all children should be enabled to thrive in a digital environment, UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Peter Power said: "Donnacha powerfully articulates some of the risks and dangers that his generation are experiencing online and we must take notice.
"Governments and social media companies must be held accountable for children’s health and safety online. We must demand the highest ethical standards and responsibilities in the design of technologies, and companies must ensure the best interests of children are fundamental, and that their rights are protected.
"The Government's Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Bill 2022 currently going through the Dáil is aiming to provide the framework for regulation, but it needs to be properly resourced in order to deliver effective safety mechanisms to protect children online.
"We commend Donnacha for raising these important issues with the Taoiseach and for fighting for a safe and positive online environment for every child."