MISUSE OF SOCIAL media is affecting the mental health of Irish teens, according to an Oireachtas report published today by a cross-party group of TDs and Senators.
The report recommended that a single body be given responsibility for co-ordinating the regulation of social media content, arguing that lack of a central agency meant that the huge burden of managing reports of misuse has largely fallen with the social media companies themselves.
Paul C O’Dwyer of the National Anti-Bullying Coalition told the Oireachtas Communications Committee that one social network received 100,000 requests per day but had only 90 people to deal with them.
The committee also urged that guidelines specific to cyberbullying be put in place nationally, so that school principals have a protocol to follow.
Committee vice-chairman John O’Mahony said: “There is no doubt that social media has immense potential for public good and civic engagement,” but called for “a more coordinated approach to tackling the irresponsible use” of these social media channels.
Link with suicide
The committee carried out hearings after a number of suicides last year were linked to cyberbullying.
However, the report found that cyberbullying and suicide 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.
Despite that, “cyberbullying is a serious issue which can have lasting effects for those affected, resulting in: distress, loneliness, low self-esteem, anxiety, academic difficulties, poor concentration, high absenteeism and poor physical health,” the report said.
Other recommendations in the report include:
- Where underage children open social media accounts, the relevant company must be swift in closing the account and removing all information related to it.
- Employers should be made aware of the importance of introducing a social media policy which clearly outlines what constitutes cyberbullying and what actions will be taken if there is a breach in policy.
- A review of international best practice in relation to the registration of pre-paid SIM cards should be carried out by the government, with a view to exploring the feasibility of preventing the use of these cards for malicious use.
- More emphasis should be placed on educating parents, teachers and children on how to safely use social media.
The report referenced controversy surrounding Ask.fm, an anonymous questions and answers platform commonly used by teenagers in Ireland, the UK and around the world. When questioned earlier this year about suicides which some have linked to the website, founder of Ask.fm Mark Terebin said:
As far as we can see, we only have this problem in Ireland and the United Kingdom most of all, trust me. There are no complaints regarding cyberbullying from parents, children or other sources in other countries. It seems that children are crueler in these countries.
Social media use among Irish teenagers
According to the report, the most commonly used social media platform for teenagers in Ireland is Facebook (95 per cent), followed by Bebo (65 per cent) and Twitter (33 per cent).
Research has found that some 16 per cent of male Irish teenagers have bullied others, while 10 per cent report that they have been the subject of bullying through social media. For females, 5 per cent have taken part in online bullying, while 12 per cent report having been bullied online.