Call for laws to tackle revenge porn and cyber bullying

Call for laws to tackle revenge porn and cyber bullying

Hugely popular platforms for teenagers and pre-teens, such as Snapchat and TikTok, need to be included along with the major social media giants in State efforts to address online harms, a youth organisation has said.

An Oireachtas committee also heard renewed calls for “justice” to be afforded to the family of Dara Quigley, a woman with mental health issues who took her own life in April 2017 after images of her running naked, which were originally held by gardaí, were circulated and subsequently shared online.

The committee also heard that the family of Jacqueline Griffin, a woman who died last January in an horrific car accident on the M50, that “everyday life is impossible” and that their faith in humanity “destroyed” after the incident was recorded and subsequently shared online.

The issues were raised in the final of four hearings being held by the Oireachtas Justice Committee into online harms, which will result in a report with recommendations for legislative changes.

The hearings, which have heard from a wide range of experts, agencies and social media companies, have highlighted a lack of laws on specific areas, including the sharing of image-based sexual abuse (also known as 'revenge porn'), cyber bullying and cyber harassment.

Ian Power, CEO of SpunOut.ie, an information website for young people, said it engaged with big social media companies, like Twitter and Facebook, to try and influence them – but said their experience has thought them there are “limits” to working together.

“There are areas in which there is simply no substitute for intervention and regulation by the State,” he said.

He said platforms like SnapChat and TikTok “refuse to engage” with groups on issues of privacy and safety of young people on their platforms.

He said social media companies “must have a legal responsibility” to users, which is “above and beyond their obligation to turn a profit”.

He said SpunOut.ie have experienced an “escalation” in the number of cases involving young people where requests to take down images are not complied with.

He said the lack of specific offences – such as the sharing of sexual abuse images, harassment and cyber bullying – prevented local gardaí from taking and investigating such complaints.

Elizabeth Farries of the Irish Council of Civil Liberties said their statement was “in memory” of Dara Quigley and said her mother, Aileen Malone, was attending the hearing.

She said the sharing of CCTV, held by An Garda Síochána, of Ms Quigley running naked, first within a WhatsApp group and then uploaded onto Facebook, was “an injustice” and that, two-and-a-half years on, no organisation or individual had been held responsible.

A GSOC file to the DPP on the case resulted in directions from the State prosecutor that no criminal charges should be brought.

Ms Farries said the case highlighted the “tragic consequences” that can happen from sharing image-based sexual abuse and said the matter should be made a criminal offence.

A number of deputies voiced serious concerns over the case of Dara Quigley, including Independent TD Catherine Connolly, People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny and RISE deputy Paul Murphy.

Senator Lynn Ruane raised the case of Jacqueline Griffin and read out a short statement from her brother Paul, in which he said no one had given consent to his sister's “decapitated remains” being filmed and shared.

He said it destroyed their “faith in humanity” and that “everyday life is impossible”.

Senator Ruane asked how consent in this context could be legislated for in the committee's examination.

Professor James O'Higgins Norman of the National Anti-Bullying Centre in DCU said while much of the focus has been on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google, “insufficient attention” has been paid to gaming platforms, YouTube and apps, including SimSimi and Yubo.

He said research they had just finished shows that a quarter of 15-18 year olds surveyed said they had sent sexual photos to others online, with 13% saying a sexual image had been shared without their consent.

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said they had heard first-hand experience from callers to their helpline and from counselling clients that a single image uploaded to the internet without consent can cause "devastating consequences" - and that legislation was needed similar to what other countries have introduced.

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