Online abuse victims will be able to use Facebook posts as evidence

Online abuse and harassment will be made an offence under laws to crack down on bullying and harassment.

Victims of online abuse will also be able to use examples of harassment on the internet, such as Facebook posts, as evidence in court under the proposals.

The measures were announced yesterday following recommendations by the Internet Content Advisory Group to the Government, which was asked to look at bullying and harassment online.

Key recommendations to be implemented include:

* Amending the laws so that the “sending of grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, or menacing” messages relates to electronic communications;

* Overhauling disclosure and discovery rules for the courts for cases involving online media or abuse;

* A national council for child internet safety industry representatives and government which will co-ordinate online safety plans and education measures;

* The teaching of internet safety and digital literacy skills in schools;

* Further supports for parents dealing with cyberbullying.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte secured the support for the measures at the Cabinet yesterday.

The moves come as a separate report found that the greatest fear parents have when their children go online is meeting dangerous people rather than watching pornography.

The Hotline.ie report found that bullying is now the third highest concern for parents at 16% — up from 6% in a previous survey in 2001.

Three in 10 parents also said they did not monitor their children’s online activities at all.

Many of the recommendations announced yesterday involve internet providers voluntarily making users aware of dangers or filtering websites.

Brian O’Neill of Dublin Institute of Technology, who chaired the advisory group, said it had stopped short of recommending a British model of parental control over accessing the internet.

Dr O’Neill said there was already a high level of filtering products in the Irish market and that the group wanted to give it an opportunity to develop.

Mr Rabbitte said no new sanctions or penalties would apply for cyberbullying. The Law Reform Commission is examining possible further changes.

He also said the Cabinet had discussed the issue of politicians having been the victims of online abuse before the recent elections.

He and the justice minister had discussed how to trace the perpetrators where candidates had been targeted with “obnoxious treatment”.

Lorraine Higgins, a Labour senator who received online abuse during her bid for a European Parliament seat, yesterday welcomed the measures.

“I also welcome the suggestion that there should be a review of the current discovery and disclosure rules in court so that examples of online harassment, such as Facebook posts, could be used as evidence,” she said.

Ms Higgins had said she received death threats during the election campaign, including one in which a man online threatened to hack her to death.

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