Children favour criminalisation of harmful online behaviour

The vast majority of children consulted as part of a Law Reform Commission report favour making a wide range of harmful online behaviour illegal.

A total of 70 young people, aged between 13 and 17 and from across the country, also told researchers that more needed to be done on education and online safety.

More than nine out of 10 children said online abuse, such as identity theft, catfishing (stealing a person’s identity by creating a fake profile), cyberbullying, and revenge porn, should all be made illegal.

Children said catfishing can be used to lure someone into a relationship, ask for nude photos, bully people, get people into trouble, and start fights.

Participants said an older person could lure a child into a relationship, meet up with them and cause them harm, including sexual assault, rape, and kidnapping.

In relation to cyberbullying and trolling, children said that such activity was generally anonymous and can include name-calling, abuse, sharing of photos or personal information, online harassment, and stalking.

“They felt trolling could sometimes be limited to posting satirical comments online, whereas cyberbullying was more personal and akin to offline bullying,” the report said.

Children favour criminalisation of harmful online behaviour

They said social networking sites that allowed for anonymous profiles and activities, such as ask.fm were “particularly prone” to instances of cyberbullying.

“Some young people called for these types of anonymous websites to be banned or not to be allowed to be anonymous,” said the report.

Researchers were told the impact of cyberbullies can range from harmless annoyance to embarrassment, hurt and humiliation.

“It can also have an impact on people’s reputation, self-esteem, emotional wellbeing, and mental health and, in some cases, lead to suicide.”

Within the space of a month in 2012, two girls, Ciara Pugsley, aged 15, from Leitrim, and Erin Gallagher, 13, from Donegal, took their own lives after being subjected to anonymous cyberbullying by teens on ask.fm.

The bulk of children said even one-off cyberbullying should be made illegal.

In relation to group chats, children said these services, including Facebook messenger, can be used for bullying and illegal activity.

Other sites that had an anonymous group chat function included Tumblr and 4chan. The children also said groups on Instagram can promote eating disorders and self-harm.

In relation to pornography, the main issues identified by participants was the inadvertent exposure of children and young people to pornography adverts online.

“Some young people gave examples of seeing adverts of pornography and dating websites on websites aimed at children or on sites where young people watch free films,” said the report.

Children cited a movie site called Putlocker.

One child said: “It’s very awkward when your young sister is online and porn ads pop up. You have to explain to parents that I’m watching a normal movie not porn when they walk in and see a random ad for porn sites.”

Children favour criminalisation of harmful online behaviour

All children said revenge porn should be made illegal and said it impacted on the person’s reputation and their mental health.

“Revenge porn is sending intimate pictures in a group chat or to their parents who aren’t involved. Using intimate photos to blackmail you into doing things you are uncomfortable with. Posting private pictures after a break up to embarrass someone.”

The children called for better sex education to cover the implications and legalities of sending and receiving nude photos, as well as online safety and pornography addiction.

Recommendations from the teenagers interviewed:

“Catfishing is incredibly easy to do. It is stealing someone’s identity. It can affect the person who has been catfished and the person whose identity has been stolen. It can be used to start fights, kidnap people and make people believe they have relationships with fake people.”

“Cyberbullying is like trolling, materials can be posted, nasty abusive comments, sharing photos without permission, stalking and spam, harassing. It can happen over a period and some material shared could really affect a person’s life emotionally/job interviews.”

“Ban anonymous profile websites, eg ask.fm. Facebook and websites with private interaction should not be allowed to be anonymous.”

“Cyberbullying can be one off as all online activity can never be truly erased. Lots of people will have access to the cyberbullies’ comments/actions so it’s just like bullying in a big group.”

 

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