Union: Cyberbullying impossible to stamp out

The union representing secondary-school teachers has insisted they are doing everything they can to tackle cyberbullying — but admits the issue is almost impossible to stamp out.

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland assistant general secretary Moira Leydon told RTÉ Radio’s Drivetime that schools have had policies specifically targeting bullying for more than 20 years.

However, she said the development of technology in recent years has made blocking out all forms of bullying far more difficult.

“In the case of cyberbullying I think it’s important that we would distinguish the fact that bullying is always a behavioural issue; but technology has made it more insidious, more invasive, more targeted.

“Bullying as a behaviour is a phenomenon that our society as a whole has to come to terms with.”

The senior official said schools were actively attempting to address cyberbullying “across a myriad of ways”, such as “acceptable youth policies for dealing with technology, including personal technology while in the school”.

However, she said the biggest challenge was that “so much of cyberbullying, unlike old-fashioned face-to-face confrontations in the corridor, the yard or the school bus, frequently takes place when the child is on their own, in their bedroom with the laptop or their phone. This makes it particularly hard for schools and parents to deal with it”.

She urged anyone affected to report potential abuse to a trusted adult immediately, and assured them schools are “pro-active” in addressing such complaints.

She said that while the parents of alleged bullies may initially be angry at the claims, they often came around to the need to resolve the dispute as they had “the best long-term interests of their child” in mind.

She said the Department of Education was drawing up new cyberbullying policies in light of the recent deaths of Ciara Pugsley and Erin Gallagher.

However, Fine Gael senator Deirdre Clune said this did not go far enough, and called for further education to be given to both parents and gardaí on the matter.

“Cyberbullying has become a worldwide issue and needs to be tackled immediately in order to ensure the safety of vulnerable children. It is just as damaging and hurtful as bullying in the schoolyard. It needs to be treated as such by the gardaí, teachers or anyone who is involved in child welfare.

“Parents need to be educated about this medium of bullying which many are unaware of — the sites used are not always large organisations like Facebook and Twitter.”

Her comments came as youth mental health group SpunOut and the ISPCC urged people to seek help if they are being victimised. The groups said anyone affected should set their online settings to private, keep information among known friends, take a screengrab of any abuse, and block phone numbers from people sending abuse by text.

* Further information can be found at childline.ie, 1800 666666 or by texting “talk” to 50101.

What is ask.fm?

ask.fm is a question platform site and is among the latest breed of web apps to become popular with Irish children.

It is one of many similar websites now easily accessible online, but is ahead of rivals like Formspring and Spillit with young Irish users.

It gives people the opportunity to ask and answer controversial questions totally anonymously. The answers can be in text or video format, and users can browse other people’s profiles with the option of submitting questions directly to them.

The service is very easy to use — questions can be posed to one particular person or to all users, and any questions that comes up on a user’s feed can be answered by the user.

Typical questions include: “What would you do if you won the lotto?” and “What was the last YouTube video you saw?”

This site is highly integrated with popular social networking sites like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Users can invite their friends and followers to ask them questions by posting links on their timelines or twitter feeds.

Users can also share questions or responses on a user’s ask.fm profile on Facebook by ‘liking’ them.

What are the risks for children using ask.fm?

Question apps are great fun and only cause harm when abused. But abuse appears to be widespread. You only have to skim through the site to see that sexualised, abusive, and bullying content can be, and is being posted unchecked.

The unique selling point of ask.fm is its guarantee of anonymity, with the website recently telling its followers it will never release the information of anyone who posts to the site.

We tend to say things to people online that we wouldn’t say to their face, and this is exaggerated when we communicate anonymously. The result is that scattered amongst questions about celebrity and lifestyle are highly sexualised, abusive, and nasty questions and comments.

The site also has very few privacy controls which means content can be viewed by anyone, even non-users. This is the default setting and there does not appear to be an option to change this. ask.fmlacks even the most basic technical protections for users. There is no mechanism to report abusive content, and no source of advice for young users.

* from www.webswise.ie

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