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Social media: the good, the bad and the ugly

The Dáil discussed all aspects of social media this afternoon, from how Skype is keeping Irish families in touch at a time of emigration to the effects of cyberbullying.

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CYBERBULLYING IN IRISH schools is among the highest in the EU.

That was one of the points made in a Dáil debate this afternoon.

TDs debated a report on addressing the growth of social media and tackling cyberbullying.

Fine Gael TD, John O’Mahony chaired the debate, noting that “in a digital age, social media is changing how the public communicate with each other”.

The deputy outlined some of the recommendations in the report, such as:

  • Social media accounts must be closed immediately by the relevant company when they are opened by underage children;
  • Employers should introduce a social media policy;
  • Teachers, parents and children should be educated in how to use social media safely.

He also said one of the difficulties with dealing with this issue is that “by the time one area is addressed, another one presents itself in a manner not envisaged, in other words, it’s difficult to get ahead of the curve”.

The committee also recommended that school principles should have a clear programme to follow when they come across internet bullying.

Deputy O’Mahony said:

There was a time when bullying was confined to the school grounds but now it’s 24/7 and not as visible as it once was.

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He warned how cyberbullying was not restricted to just students with students, but that students can bully teachers in this way too.

The suggested link between cyberbullying and suicide has brought the problem to the country’s attention but the report found that the two “are not necessarily always linked”.

The committee pointed to American research which found that “cyberbullying is rarely the sole or main cause of death by suicide”. However, O’Mahony outlined that it can be a “contributing factor and have an impact of confidence and self esteem”.

He said that it is interesting to note how other countries have dealt with these problems.

In the UK, teachers have a direct line to contact an agency that will direct them to deal with these situations.”

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Minister Pat Rabbitte said the debate was being held because “widespread internet access has given people huge power and reach”.

The Minister for Communications described social media as a “broad and diverse church”.

The internet is an immense social good… it has made the world a better place…the consequences of social media are mostly positive, it can enrich and enlighten the days of people around the world on a daily basis.

“Social media has already fundamentally changed the way people, especially young people, interact with and experience media. It has also recast how they interact with their peers.”

He said “for the most part this is a good thing, but there are downsides as well” adding that “as a state and society we have a responsibility to protect our children”.

While we should not and cannot attempt to regulate the media in a formal way, we should not shy from looking at tools in a rational way to see if we can make improvements.

Fianna Fail TD Michael Moynihan, said he supported an action plan on bullying. Speaking about schools, he said:

There is a clear need for guidelines to be put in place so that principles dealing with these cases have a clear protocol to follow. This is a common sense proposal and one that has to be followed.

He also extended that message to the workplace saying, “Employers too have an important role to play in putting guidelines in place that can inform management when serious issues arise”, adding that they also need to introduce a social media policy.

He expressed how Fianna Fail proposal’s “would make cyberbullying an offence for the first time”.

“Parents would also be deemed to have committed an offensive if they knew cyber bullying was taking place but did nothing about it.”

Failing to tackle this problem straight on will only result in further pain for families, he claimed.

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Sinn Fein TD Michael Colreavy said “social media has broken through what was once seen as a young persons tool, people in their 50s and 60s are now using it”.

He also highlighted the positive role social media plays in Ireland, especially at a time of emigration

It allows people at different sides of the globe to stay in touch practically for free, there was a time emigrants in would have to budget a part of there weekly income to phone home to Ireland.

“Thanks to social media and Skype, Irish families can see what is happening in the lives of loved ones around the world.”

He added:

It doesn’t eliminate the pain of emigration but it does make the world that little bit smaller.

Deputy Colreavy said bullying has unfortunately always existed in Irish classrooms, citing that 17 per cent of 12- to 18-year-olds suffered at the hands of it at least once.

The difference is that with cyberbullying, the bully follows the victims into their homes and into their bedrooms.

The Chairman of the debate, Deputy John O’Mahony concluded that this is “an evolving and fast moving story” and that “it is important the public realise that there is action being taken and there is progress being made.”

Two thirds of students say they know someone who died by suicide>

One in seven children subjected to cyber bullying in last three months>

Time to act on bullying before tragedy hits primary schools, says expert>

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