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Professor James O Higgins Norman ABC Director and UNESCO Chair on Tackling Bullying in School and Cyberspace with Julie de Bailliencourt, Facbook Global Safety Policy Manager with students from Kylemore College Ballyfermot. Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Cyber Bullying

'Could do better': Criticism over funding as Facebook launches new countrywide anti-bullying project

Facebook and DCU have launched a new anti-bullying training programme for secondary schools.

SOCIAL MEDIA GIANT Facebook has joined forces with the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre (ABC) at Dublin City University (DCU) on a new project for secondary schools. 

The initiative will train teachers on how to deal with cyber bullying over a three-year period. 

Facebook has granted ABC just over €330,000 to support the work. 

Professor James O’Higgins Norman the director of ABC and the UNESCO chair on tackling bullying in schools said for them it’s “a huge amount of money to get and will allow us achieve a certain level of access to schools”.

Of course if we had double that we could do more, it’s enough to get us going on this road. 

The amount of money Facebook is putting behind the initiative raised a few eyebrows at the launch.

Senator Catherine Noone was one of those in attendance. Noone told it seemed “on the low side”:

They could’ve easily given half a million or a million towards it. It’s a lot of money for DCU, but there’s a lot more they (Facebook) can do in the area.

Vice President of the ASTI Deirdre MacDonald welcomed the initiative, but also raised concerns about the funding involved:

I think the level of funding, in terms of the amount of revenue Facebook has at its disposal, is to use an old hackneyed phrase, [they] could do better. 

MacDonald said she would like to see the project tackle bullying of teachers by students: 

“It was implied (at the launch) that victims of bullying in school are all students. That’s not the case, it can be any staff member as well,” MacDonald said.

Teachers are frequently the targets of bullying online by students and it’s often forgotten.

Whether its a something as trivial as how a teacher dresses or to more extreme homophobic bullying, MacDonald said it can have “devastating effects” for teachers. 

The project itself will provide two teachers from each secondary school in the country with a one day training workshop on how they can tackle bullying.  The events will be organised in local education centres and will be voluntary for schools to participate in. 

They will have access to online resources that will help them begin to develop their own skills, share those skills with their colleagues and then promote tackling online bullying and safety in the school among the kids said O’Higgins Norman. 

Once a school is registered as a participant, the team at ABC will continue to provide resources and in year two will begin working with parents in the area.

Speaking at the launch Facebook’s Niamh Sweeney admitted it had been a particularly difficult few months for the company, after a Channel 4 documentary found graphic images of child abuse had remained on the site despite being reported as abusive. 

Facebook’s Julie de Baillencourt launched the initiative in Dublin this morning and told she can understand why people may be somewhat reticent about their involvement in the project. 

I can understand if people have concerns or maybe think this is somehow misaligned.
We’ve been working on this for a very long time and I can see that over time we have been improving how quickly we look at reports. 

In the fallout of the documentary Mark Zuckerberg announced a doubling of staff from 10,000 to 20,000 in the area. As well as a greater investment in artificial intelligence and machine learning in the hopes of catching abusive posts more quickly. 

De Baillencourt had this appeal for young people directly: 

Have faith in us, please report the content that you see that may be abusive. We have real people and real teams that are here to help.
We strive to come back to you faster than 24 hours, but we need a report from people to tell us hey I’m really unhappy about this or I feel really hurt by these comments. 

IMG_3640 Sophie Butler, Elizabeth Moreland, Tara Keirnan and Sarah Markham student teachers at DCU.

A number of student teachers from DCU attended today’s launch and welcomed the initiative.  

Elizabeth Moreland said “as future educators this is a very important project and making sure that the funding is going in to help teachers and parents”. 

However she wants to see Facebook follow-up on this project with tangible actions:

It’s great to say it, but they have to put this in action now, the sooner the better. 

For fellow student Sophie Butler it’s about giving teachers the tools to encourage young people to confide in them, if they’ve been the victim of cyber bullying. 

At the end of the day, let’s say you’ve seen a comment when you’re in school and then you’re at home and it’s at home that you’re alone. It’s up to us to say, don’t go home with that worry, say it to a teacher or a guidance counsellor.  

The project is billed as a research-based training programme on bullying, cyber bullying, and online safety in post-primary schools and is available to every secondary school in Ireland. More details are available here.

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