Overhaul of law around cyber-bullying urged

A radical overhaul of legislation around cyberbullying is needed as it is spiralling out of control, according to a leading law expert.

A recent survey by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals found 16% of Irish students have experienced bullying online — a 33% increase on last year.

Up to 14% of students who took part in the recent first national study into bullying have admitted they have been cyber-bullied.

Researchers from the Anti-Bullying Centre at DCU have found that another 8% admitted to cyber-bullying others.

The study was carried out on a group of 2,700 students, aged from between 12 and 16, in eight post-primary schools late last year.

A further 39% of girls and 30% of boys reported that they had witnessed someone being cyber-bullied.

David Fagan, a health and safety law expert, believes it will take a “horrific case” of bulling or cyber-bullying before the State will implement new legislation around the issue.

“There is no specific legislation here which deals with this issue. Bullying and cyber-bullying need to be defined and penalties around such need to urgently be introduced here,” said Mr Fagan.

“There is all sorts of legislation here, such as the Children’s Act and Education Act, but the State doesn’t recognise bullying as a concept. Here you have to bring a personal injury case against someone which doesn’t specify bullying.

“Even schools and teachers don’t seem to realise how they could not be covered by appropriate legislation when it comes to dealing with this issue.

“We are way behind other countries when it comes to this worrying `issue. There was one case here which was brought under the Post Office Amendment Act of 1951 around one site and the use of telephone.

“But that legislation is so old. It is nuts that we are using archaic law. The law around this issue is based in the Stone Age and has not kept pace.”

Mr Fagan is speaking ahead of the first ever national conference on cyber-bullying, which is being held at Dublin Castle on Monday by the Bully4U organisation and the Anti Bullying Centre at Dublin City University (DCU).

The conference aims at educating and empowering parents, teachers and health professionals in providing support to victims and developing cyber-bullying prevention and intervention strategies.

There will be an international speaker line-up, including spokespeople from Facebook, Twitter and ASK.FM.

Jim Harding, founder of Bully4U which visits schools nationwide to provide training on the issue to schools, added: “Identifying threats and trends around cyber-bullying is so important.

“We need to equip professionals at the coal face to ‘understand and manage this cyber-bullying epidemic in our schools, clubs and digital playgrounds.

“An exchange of best practice about recognition, monitoring and prevention of harmful on-line communication and cyber-bullying, especially in schools and families in so badly needed.

“Specific recommendations to policy and decision makers at EU and government level has to happen now.”

More in this section