Youths’ online usage under the spotlight

The online bullying of Ana Kriegel is one of the many harrowing strands of the case that we must address. An online safety commissioner is being discussed, writes Jess Casey

The long, distressing trial of two teenage boys convicted for the murder of Ana Kriegel in May 2018 laid bare many harrowing details of the violent death she suffered, and some of the heartaches she faced while alive.

Over the course of the trial of Boy A and Boy B, details emerged about the vulnerable schoolgirl who at times struggled to make friends but had always tried her best.

While school might not have been Ana’s strong point, she threw herself into other activities like swimming and dancing. One creative avenue she dedicated herself to was her YouTube channel, where she would post videos of herself dancing “as well as doing more mundane things”, an online activity not uncommon for any 14-year-old girl looking for a bit of escape from her day-to-day life.

Which makes it even crueller that it was on this channel that she was targeted by bullies. She received threats in her comment section to ‘go and die’, as well as threats of execution.

Without a doubt, there are wider discussions to be had on some of the more disturbing aspects of the trial of Boy A and Boy B, however uncomfortable.

Youths’ online usage under the spotlight

Bullying through social exclusion, our society’s treatment of young girls who look ‘mature for their age’, teaching young people acceptable behaviours around sex and consent — these are all discussions that should, and will be, discussed nationally in more detail following the sentencing of the boys in July.

One particular aspect of the case, not heard before the jury, was raised in the Dáil by Labour leader Brendan Howlin yesterday. “Following the conviction of two 14-year-old boys for the horrific murder of Ana Kriegel and her sexual assault by Boy A, it’s been revealed that Boy A had two mobile phones full of pornographic images,” he said.

His internet searches in previous years are reported to have included child pornography, and animal pornography.

Mr Howlin was referring to a “vast amount” of pornographic content located on two phones belonging to Boy A. Among the 11,000 images was a photograph of a man squeezing the throat of a partially naked woman. Another image showed a woman with her wrists and ankles bound, a gag in her mouth, and a person standing behind her.

Brendan Howlin: 'We can clearly and unambiguously say that this material should not be accessible by children.'
Brendan Howlin: "We can clearly and unambiguously say that this material should not be accessible by children."

Internet searches on one of these phones included “child porn”, “dark web”, “horse porn”, and “animal porn”.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott had refused to allow the prosecution to lead this evidence in front of the jury as he said it was “highly prejudicial.”

The material on the phone was found to have predated the murder of Ana by a number of months and the extensive nature of the downloads was also deemed “highly prejudicial” to the fair trial of the accused, he ruled.

When reminded by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl that the case is still technically before the courts, Mr Howlin said: “I don’t intend to go into the case any further than that, other than the conclusion that we need to draw from it as a parliament.”

It’s up to professionals to assess the impact of such material on impressionable children. But we can clearly and unambiguously say that this material should not be accessible by children.

Without question, the use of the internet and social media among children is now ubiquitous, with a recent study finding that the vast majority of Irish eight-year-olds own their own smart device.

Almost half are using social media, and one in five have appeared in a YouTube video, according to CyberSafeIreland.

In the UK, research carried out by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) found that almost 50% of 11-16-year-olds have seen pornography online.

Children are most likely to have seen pornography online for the first time accidentally, the study also found.

Of the 1,001 young people surveyed by the NSPCC, 44% of boys said that porn had given them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try, with 29% of girls surveyed reporting the same.

Here, recent studies carried out by CyberSafeIreland found that more than a third of 8-10-year-olds rarely or never talk to their parents about online safety.

Surveying 1,200 children between September and December in 2018, CyberSafeIreland found that almost a quarter of this group are playing over-18s games, which include highly inappropriate content for this age group.

In mid-July, a new law will come into effect in the UK which will see people required to prove they are over the age of 18 before accessing adult content online. This will require pornographic sites to take steps to verify the age of UK visitors. Failing to comply could result in being blocked by internet service providers.

Speaking in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged that it is a”matter of concern to all of us that pornography is now so accessible to young people”.

“We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by moralising or deciding for other people what they should do, or what they should watch.

“So many young people learn about sex through pornography which is not an accurate representation, I think, of what is healthy in life,” he said, suggesting that Communications Minister Richard Bruton seek a report on the age-verification-scheme from his UK counterpart.

A consultation process on the Online Safety Bill is under way, he said, adding that this should see the introduction of new requirements on online platforms, the prohibition of cyberbullying of minors, and the restriction of harmful material online that promotes suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders.

This bill should also see the appointment of an ‘online safety commissioner’, said Mr Varadkar.

Youths’ online usage under the spotlight

The introduction of an online safety commissioner has been called for at length by organisations such as the ISPCC and the Children’s Rights Alliance, who campaign to end the self-regulation by online platforms.

Such a commissioner could potentially oversee the prosecution of online platforms if they do not comply with a range of new safety measures introduced through the bill.

However, there is no date set for the appointment of an online safety commissioner, no published draft proposals, and no timeframe for rolling out the programme has been guaranteed.

While the consultation for the Online Safety Bill is ongoing, it is now closed to submissions, according to a spokesman for the Department of Communications. “Draft heads of the bill will be brought to the Government after policy decisions have been made on a range of issues identified in the consultation.”

Harmful content

Twitter states on its website that “you can’t include violent, hateful, or adult content within areas that are highly visible on Twitter, including in live video, profile or header images”.

“If you share this content within Tweets, you need to mark your account as sensitive. Doing so places images and videos behind an interstitial (or warning message), that needs to be acknowledged before your media can be viewed.”

It says users can report violations of that:

In-app:

  • 1 Select Report Tweet from the icon
  • 2 Select It displays a sensitive image

On desktop:

  • 1 Select Report Tweet from the icon
  • 2 Select It displays a sensitive image

Facebook says “Nudity or other sexually suggestive content isn’t allowed on Facebook”.

Its help team says: “The best way to report posts or people that don’t follow the Facebook Community Standards is by using the “Report” link that appears near the post itself (whether it’s a photo, message, post or something else).”

Google says: “If your site contains sexually explicit material, you must mark the site as containing adult material. The content will be put behind an interstitial, so that users will have the choice of viewing or not viewing this content. If you do not mark your site as containing adult material and we become aware that your site contains images or videos with nudity or sexually explicit material, we will put the content behind an interstitial.... We don’t allow commercial pornography and sites that exist to drive traffic to a commercial pornography site. “

It says users can report behavior that you consider to be a violation of Google’s terms of service or program policies either through Google docs, sheets, slides or forms; Google sites; Google Drive.

More on this topic

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