Online bullying is on the rise in Ireland, with a 33% increase in the last twelve months, according to a survey carried out on Irish teenagers.
The government has been warned to take action now to prevent cyberbullying spiralling out of control in the future.
Of the 2,700 students surveyed, 39% of girls and 30% of boys said they had witnessed someone being cyberbullied. 16% said they had suffered cyberbullying themselves, and 8% admitted they had taken part in cyberbullying someone.
A conference on the matter is to take place today at Dublin Castle. Students and parents are invited to attend to gain vital information about cyber-bullying, and how to deal with it if it affects you.
David Fagan, a health and safety law expert, told the Irish Independent that he feared it will take a “horrific case” of cyber-bullying before the government takes action to implement proper safeguards to protect young people.
Mr Fagan said: “There is no specific legislation here which deals with this issue. Bullying and cyberbullying need to be defined, and penalties around such need to urgently be introduced here.
“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 a 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 apace.”
Today’s conference will include speeches from representatives of social media giants Facebook and Twitter, and also Jim Harding, the founder of the anti-bullying organisation Bully4U. Harding travels around schools speaking to children about the dangers of cyberbullying, and the importance of stating safe online. He said: “Identifying threats and trends around cyberbullying is so important. We need to equip professionals at the coalface to understand and manage this cyberbullying epidemic in our schools, clubs and digital playgrounds.”
There have been several cases in recent years of teenagers being driven to suicide after falling victim to online bullying campaigns. Today’s conference is aimed to let children know they have someone to turn to in these situations, and don’t feel like they have to suffer in silence. It is also important to educate parents and teachers about the shift in importance of online safety, in this new digital era.