Fears rise over extent of cyber-bulling

INTERNET service providers are virtually powerless to prevent cyber-bullying, with social networking sites fast becoming a popular vehicle for targeting vulnerable young people.

As a survey published yesterday suggested that one in five girls and one in five boys have been the victims of cyber-bullying, calls have been made for restrictions on internet usage for young people.

Last night’s RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme revealed that one in 11 secondary school pupils admitted engaging in cyber-bullying, using social networking sites; mobile phone text messaging; internet chatrooms and video clips.

The National Parents Council (NPC) said yesterday that the issue of cyber-bullying is becoming more of a concern.

Rose Tully of the NPC said it was an added worry for parents and their children: “When the rest of us were going to school we were used to the verbal or physical bullying, where someone would punch you or pull your hair, but now it’s gone to the stage where they’re using technology. Now they’re putting it up on the internet or sending it to other people on their mobiles.”

She described the cyber-bullying phenomenon as “frightening”, particularly for young people who find themselves the butt of cruel jokes, text messages or videos.

“I feel myself that parents have to monitor what their children are doing but if they’re going into internet cafes and so on it can be very difficult. The internet service providers (ISP) should be asked to ban unsuitable sites for young people, full stop.”

However, the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI) said last night that it was almost impossible for ISPs to combat the problem.

“It’s extremely difficult unless it’s seen to be illegal,” said Paul Durrant of the ISPAI.

“Most of these social network sites are not hosted in this country. If they were, they would be part of this jurisdiction.”

The ISPAI can take action when it becomes aware of illegal content on the web such as child pornography or racist material, but comments posted on chatrooms or social networking sites would generally not be illegal in themselves. “Although it can certainly have a great effect on the people that are the butt of the bullying,” said Mr Durrant.

Some sites, such as Bebo and MySpace, have facilities for users to report damaging material, while Bebo also highlights its safety terms and conditions.

School principal and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown county councillor Mary Mitchell O’Connor said, however that parents “must take back the responsibility for the protection of their own children” and cannot abdicate their responsibilities or blame other agencies.

“What parent would allow their child to wander into an area where they know a paedophile might be operating from?

“Yet parents do not inform themselves what information children might be giving out in internet chatrooms or indeed who their children are communicating with.” she said.

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