Enhanced regulations needed to deal with online bullying – Deputy Jonathan O’Brien
The death last week of a schoolgirl in England, who took her own life after suffering online abuse, is another tragic reminder of the dangers of cyber-bullying and highlights the important role schools have in helping to combat it.
This is the view of Sinn Féin education spokesperson, Deputy Jonathan O’Brien, who believes the circumstances that led to the suicide of 14-year-Hannah Smith have many similarities with Erin Gallagher and Ciara Pugsley who died after being targeted by online bullies.
Deputy O’Brien said: “The very sad suicide of English teenager, Hannah Smith, has been directly attributed to the abuse she suffered through the posting of anonymous messages via Ask.fm.
This latest tragedy has reminded us of the deaths of Donegal school girl Erin Gallagher (13) and Leitrim teen Ciara Pugsley (15) who were targeted in a similar way. Each of these deaths highlight the growing dangers of online bullying and in a survey carried out before Christmas, 17% of teens said they had experienced cyber-bullying.
"Despite this, social media sites such as Ask.fm afford its users complete anonymity regardless of what they post through their website. The failure of the Ask.fm administrators to regulate its online content and provide adequate safeguards is very worrying.
“Stricter controls are needed in tandem with creating greater awareness amongst young people of the possible consequences if social media is misused to bully their peers.
“Recent attempts to raise Irish internet safety with the launch of the Watch Your Space campaign, devoted to providing a portal for young people to show their support for victims of cyberbullying, and the introduction of a new module in schools called Connect with Respect, aimed at helping students understand the impact of cyber-bullying, are steps in the right direction.
“More must be done to educate pupils, teachers and parents of the dangers that can arise from this type of behaviour.
“In January Sinn Féin introduced a bill that would have updated the existing school bullying guidelines to include cyber-bullying. Regrettably, the government rejected our legislation but this latest suicide to be linked to online bullying has highlighted yet again the dangers of social media websites such Ask.fm.”