herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Teenage girls using websites to abuse themselves is 'similar to self harming'

Practice growing in a number of European countries and those further afield

A new trend emerging within cyber-bullying is young girls using sites to abuse themselves.
A new trend emerging within cyber-bullying is young girls using sites to abuse themselves.

TEENAGE girls are using social media sites as a form of self-harm, posting vile messages about themselves, a safety advocate has warned.

Annie Mullins, Director of Trust and Safety with Ask.fm Europe said a new trend emerging within cyber-bullying was young girls using sites to abuse themselves.

The qualified child protection officer described the job with the controversial website, which was linked to a number of teen suicides both here and abroad, as "quite a challenge".

Ms Mullins said she has personally spoken to families of children involved in online bullying, whether they were the perpetrator or the target.

She said two of the biggest issues emerging out of online threats were mental health issues and extremism.

She said children using sites to write abusive messages to themselves was an example of a problem that could not have been anticipated.

"In Ask.fm the biggest issue we face in dealing with cyber-bullying is the children who are writing to themselves.

"The most nasty, horrid, awful statements are coming from themselves, to themselves.

"These we have begun to identify as a quite high risk of suicide," she told the IMPACT education division conference.

Ms Mullins said while Ireland does not feature so much at the moment, the practice was growing in a number of European countries and those further afield.

She said it raised issues about the challenges of helping children with mental health issues.

BULLYING

"It tends to be girls from 13 to 15. I think it's a critical time for young women with self esteem and body image and relationships.

"This internalisation or however we want to describe it, I don't think we fully understand it as a phenomenon but it is certainly a very different issue.

"It's is something we all have to step back from when we hear of bullying issues because its always much more complicated, it's never as clear as having a victim and a perpetrator," she added.

Speaking of the changes that have taken place within Ask.fm, Ms Mullins described how it had begun as a small start up without a responsible approach.

However, it has since been bought out by US company and is now investing in tackling bullying through filtering and moderating.

Ms Mullins also warned the targeting of young people by terror group ISIS through social media is "enormous" and must be tackled.

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