herald

Friday 1 August 2014

Cyberbullying probe set up after suicides

AN Oireachtas committee is to investigate the role of social media in the wake of high-profile suicides linked to cyberbullying.

It comes as new research shows cyberbullies have hundreds of opportunities every day to torment their victims.

The survey of 300 children found that 10 to 15-year-olds are unsupervised for 80pc of their time spent online

The Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications will examine whether there is a need for regulations -- or even legislation -- governing public comments on websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Cowards

The move follows the suicides of Fine Gael junior minister Shane McEntee and schoolgirls Erin Gallagher (13) and Ciara Pugsley (15).

At his funeral, the brother of Mr McEntee hit out at the "faceless cowards" who sent the Meath East TD messages in the days before his death.

Gerry McEntee, an All-Ireland-winning footballer with Meath, said: "Shame on you people, you faceless cowards who sent him horrible messages on the website and on text. Shame on you."

Oireachtas committee chairman Tom Hayes said the issue of regulating social media is very difficult but it must be dealt with.

"Early in the new year we'll be convening a special meeting to deal with this. We'll put standards in place, we want to control it. The committee will compile a report seeking action if required," he said.

But lobby group Digital Rights Ireland said the rules to tackle misbehaviour online are already in place.

"It's important to remember that the law applies online exactly the same way it applies offline. If someone breaches criminal law or says something which is defamatory, there are already means available to deal with that," the organisation said.

Meanwhile, a survey by Niall Mulrine, a computer expert who delivers anti-bullying guidance lectures to students, teachers and parents, concludes that children spend up to six hours online everyday.

He says that most young people have at least 120 Facebook 'friends' -- many of whom they don't know personally. And teens send up to 100 text messages every day

shocked

A second survey of more than 200 teenagers aged 16 to 18 found almost all of their time online was unsupervised.

"I've delivered advice in schools across Ireland in recent weeks and even I was shocked by the level of interaction online and via mobile phones," said Mr Mulrine.

Demand for his services has risen sharply following the deaths of Ciara Pugsley in Co Leitrim and Erin Gallagher in Co Donegal.

Both had been bullied on the website Ask.fm, which allows users to post comments anonymously.

hnews@herald.ie

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