Call for watchdog to tackle bullying online. [ Examiner, by Sarah Slater, 10/11/2014].

Jim Harding, founder of the anti-bullying group Bully4U, also called for more powers to independently audit social media organisations such as Ask.fm, Facebook and Twitter.

Bully4U provides training to children and teachers at primary and secondary school on the dangers of cyberbullying. It warns that a huge number of schoolchildren they deal with say many social media comments are of “an extreme sexual nature”.

Mr Harding has made the call for Government to introduce “badly needed” statutory powers following the announcement that Ask.fm, which allows users to post anonymous questions to others, is to relocate to Ireland.

Bully4U deals with thousands of schoolchildren every year and, in conjunction with the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at Dublin City University, held the first national cyberbullying conference in September.

“There really needs to be more substantial powers to independently audit such websites as Ask.fm. People can just post comments anonymously, so there needs to be some sort of trail so that posts can be verified. Such posts include; ‘Go die, you are worthless,’” Mr Harding said.

“Having Ask.fm located in Dublin makes no difference when it comes to the use of social media as it has no worldwide borders. Hopefully one good thing of having the social media website located here is that it will push for the creation of a social media ombudsman, allowing these companies to be independently audited and for the introduction of fines if certain guidelines are not followed by these companies.

“Up to 30% of children we deal with feel that Twitter is the safest of the social media networks in use. Urgent measures to stop the creation of false social media accounts set up by children who are under the age of 13, need to be in place. Parents feel they have no influence in their children’s internet usage.”

Ask.fm in a statement said it plans to introduce a “law enforcement affairs officer” based in Ireland.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has also voiced concern on Ask.fm moving to Ireland and intends to raise the issue with the Government.

Ask.fm has come under scrutiny following the deaths by suicide of 15-year-old Ciara Pugsley in Leitrim and 13-year-old Erin Gallagher in Donegal in 2012. Erin’s older sister Shannon took her life soon afterwards. Their mother Lorraine has campaigned to have the site shut down.

Jonathan Pugsley, whose daughter Ciara took her life following alleged cyberbullying and who has condemned the relocating of Ask.fm to Ireland, said it “is worrying that the popularity of the site was increasing again”.

Ask.fm chief executive Doug Leeds said: “I can tell you that there are 180m global unique users that visit Ask.fm each month. Ireland is still a relatively small market for us, but we’ve seen 30% growth for registered users in Ireland in the last year.

“In terms of daily new registered users on a global scale, there were 400,000 new users in one day (earlier this year) caused by a spike in registrations in Thailand in April. In the last three months, the average number of daily registrations is between 120,000 and 140,000.”

Children exposed to violence more likely to be cyberbullies. [Irishexaminer, by Niall Murray, 21/05/14]

The report found that cyberbullying on its own may not be responsible for mental health problems or suicidal tendencies. It says there are likely to be a range of contributory factors in victims of cyberbullying who suffer with those issues.

Helen Gleeson, the report author, said positive peer and family relationships have been shown to help buffer the more negative impacts of involvement in cyberbullying. “In contrast, young people who experience violence, harsh discipline, or neglect are at an elevated risk of being involved as both bullies and victims,” Dr Gleeson wrote.

Her report for the Department of Education and the HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention was launched alongside the National Anti-Bullying Centre at Dublin City University. Its work, having moved last year from Trinity College Dublin, will include research on how bullying can be tackled in schools, online, and in the workplace.

Dr Gleeson found similar risk factors — poor peer relationships, emotional and behavioural difficulties, more unsupervised time online, and bullying others face-to-face — in young people most at risk of being cyberbullied as those involved in traditional bullying, either as victims or bullies.

“Most young people who are cyber-victimised are also often subject to traditional types of bullying. It is difficult to determine whether negative impacts result from cyber or traditional victimisation,” she wrote.

Cyberbullying has been directly linked to a number of cases in recent years in which teenagers have taken their own lives. Dr Gleeson’s report said experiencing it is most likely to be one of a complex range of factors that contribute to poor mental health and self-harm or suicidal ideation.

She cited 2009 research which found that almost one in four Irish children reported experiencing traditional bullying but only 4% experienced cyberbullying, although it rises to 10% for mid-adolescents.

The report said it is likely that entirely new programmes are not needed to tackle cyber-bullying because it appears to be closely tied to traditional bullying. It suggested that further research is needed on the effects of family interventions, and on the media’s role — as some research has found reporting to have a detrimental effect on attitudes and beliefs. Studies on peer support strategies are also recommended.

While many strategies are often recommended in previous research, some have been found to be more effective than others. Dr Gleeson found little evidence to show that technological strategies, such as keeping passwords private or greater use of reporting facilities on social media sites, are ultimately effective.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said most of the 12 actions recommended in his department’s bullying plan last year have now been implemented, including training sessions for parents organised through the national parents’ councils, the requirement on all 4,000 schools to have dedicated anti-bullying policies, and a number of other measures.

Dr Gleeson said developing coping strategies can help reduce the negative impacts of cyberbullying, and recommends parents talk openly with children about the issue and what to do if they encounter cyberbullying.

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Bully 4u agrees completely that young people who experience violence, harsh discipline, or neglect are at an elevated risk of being involved as both bullies and victims. Parents buying violent age inappropriate video games for children please take note. The report also found little evidence to show that technological strategies, such as keeping passwords private or greater use of reporting facilities on social media sites, are ultimately effective. Despite this Bully 4u would strongly encourage students to keep their passwords private and to report all cases of cyberbullying and abuse.