The minimum age for activating such accounts is 13, but a leading Facebook executive says this is difficult to control
The pages, which encourage other students to ‘rate’ or comment upon the attractiveness of the pictured female, have sparked complaints of cyber-bullying and concerns that such pages promote sexist attitudes.
In response to complaints over the content of one such page featuring their name, ‘UCC Bird of the Day’ University College Cork (UCC) contacted Facebook to ask that pages of this nature attempting to affiliate themselves with the university be taken down.
UCC stated on their Facebook page that they were “aware of several Facebook pages that claim to represent UCC and which in many cases contain hurtful or defamatory comments targeted at students and/or members of staff… we strongly condemn them.” The post also included information on support networks available to students that had been affected by content on the pages.
The University’s public condemnation of these pages has attracted national attention in Ireland as other universities began to follow suit, and request that these pages be shut down.
Tom McCarthy, Media and Public Relations Officer at UCC, told The Cambridge Student about the positive impact of the university’s decision: “Indeed it has encouraged others to do [the] same in various universities and it is great to see it has started a conversation around the topic, as this is an unfortunate reality, thankfully in the minority, of the digital world that is not going away.”
However, Dave Berry, UCC Student Welfare Officer, reported that students complaining about the content of pages such as ‘Bird of the Day’ were being subjected to further bullying and intimidation as a result. He said, “The worrying thing is that students who have talked up [sic] against the page, or even our own staff, have been ridiculed or bullied afterwards.”
The student union at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) – another institution that has seen similar pages appear in its name – has also spoken out against the phenomenon. President of GMIT Student Union, Sam O’Neill, said, “These pages have on many occasions encouraged other students and the general public to make comments on individual student’s looks, clothes and their circumstances.
“The issue of cyber-bullying has once again raised its ugly head here, as these comments could potentially have a seriously negative affect on student’s mental health. We would urge students to think before they post, and to be more conscious of the privacy settings of their social media pages (thus preventing non-friends from sharing their content), and to report incidents to Facebook where they feel cyber bullying has occurred.”
Despite the serious criticism such pages have sparked, ‘Bird of the Day’ pages featuring the names of universities such as University of Limerick (UL) and Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) are still in operation at the time of writing.
The firms are opposing any new laws for online safety and have made their views known in submissions to a government internet advisory group, the Irish Examiner has learned.
Last week, the internet Content Governance Advisory Group advised that limited legislative changes be made, despite recommendations by children’s rights advocates for new laws to block pornography and regulate internet service providers.
Facebook, in its submission, said it contacted gardaí where “child exploitation images” were found on users’ pages. It pledged to roll out an anti-bullying hub, launched in the US last year, in Ireland shortly.
It said it encouraged the Government to “consider adopting a multi-stakeholder model for co-ordination and dissemination of good practices, rather than enact new laws”.
Broadband provider Sky told the group: “Given the cross-border nature of the internet, and the volume of content provided from outside of Ireland, it is difficult to see how stringent regulatory rules on internet content can be effective.”
Its customers wanted to be responsible for what they and their children viewed, it said, and a combination of education and use of technical parental controls were best.
However, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said the lack of regulation of internet providers meant child abuse materials were “readily viewable” within Ireland.
Effective website filtering was done in China and by music companies trying to reduce piracy, it noted.
It said specific legislation was needed to tackle cyberbullying.
Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, recommended stricter regulation to tackle online racism. Online racism was difficult to prosecute, it said, noting a case it had reported to the gardaí involving Facebook.
Gardaí were unclear how to handle online racism, it said, and new laws were needed to address online hate crimes.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte discussed the advisory group’s report with the Cabinet last week. The group said it had held off recommending strict measures, such as those adopted in Britain where internet providers will now have to adopt filtering blocks on adult websites and content.
The group recommended criminalising offensive online messages but held back proposing any large-scale legislative reform.
Mr Rabbitte said he and the group had approached the review in a co-operative way with the internet industry.
However, he said: “The industry don’t have a vested interest in abuse and misuse of the technology any more than we do.
“I think it would be difficult for the Government to take effective measures without the co-operation of the industry unless one is saying that you can decree and make law, but that kind of intrusion is running counter to the spirit of what we are trying to do here and would run counter to the fundamental cornerstone of the freedom of expression.”
FACEBOOK is trying to improve its reporting tools to combat cyber-bullying and other unsavoury online activities.
However, the social network giant with 1.1bn users worldwide does not keep data on complaints it receives.
It also said every complaint is assessed by a Facebook employee who then decides whether action is needed.
The briefing at the company’s Hanover Quay premises – its European HQ – took place amid ongoing controversies about users’ privacy and criminal activity online.
It emerged yesterday that bosses at Twitter could be hauled before MPs in Britain over actions to safeguard people from explicit and violent messages after a feminist campaigner and a Labour MP were sent rape threats.
Separately, Facebook has had to deny it allowed the National Security Agency in the US access to its servers.
The briefing heard Facebook received 9,000 valid requests from law enforcement officials in the US in the six months until the end of December 2012.
The reasons ranged from national security to a sheriff trying to locate a missing child.
In total, 19,000 users were affected, but Facebook is “very aggressive in pushing back against law enforcement requests” to protect subscribers’ privacy, according to its global chief privacy officer, Erin Egan.
No data was available on how many requests were made by gardai. It was reiterated that no access to the company’s servers has ever been granted to law enforcement officials.
The company said it can’t solve cyberbullying but accepts it has a responsibility “to work towards that”.
“If someone is being bullied and they report it to us, we’re very strict on bullying, we take it down,” Facebook’s policy communications manager Linda Griffin said.
British PM David Cameron said he was worried about children running up large bills on online purchases, as well as the consequences of young people putting too much information on social media sites.
He said he would let Nancy (9), Arthur (7) and Florence (2) sign up to Facebook when they are older, but said he would warn them against damaging their career prospects.
Meanwhile, the company has no plans to cease hosting the controversial ask.fm app, which has been at the centre of a string of bullying cases.
Ask.fm founder Mark Terebin has rejected any link between the website and teenage suicide.
The problem of students bullying teachers is another issue to be tackled in schools, according to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn
He was commenting after it emerged that four fifth-year students have been expelled from a Dublin secondary school for running a Facebook page that carried malicious comments about at least two teachers, including remarks of a sexual nature.
One of the students expelled from Oatlands College in Stillorgan is a son of independent Wexford TD Mick Wallace.
When contacted yesterday by the Irish Examiner, the school did not make any comment. “It’s the policy of Oatlands College not to make any comment concerning any student in the college,” said deputy principal Caroline Garrett.
The Facebook page was open for less than 24 hours in mid-March, and more than 20 other students who hit the ‘Like’ button on the page served a Saturday detention after it was found by a staff member. The student who set it up and three others who were listed as administrators of the page were initially suspended for 20 school days.
However, following an investigation, they were expelled after a board meeting this week. Their parents can appeal the decision under a procedure open to them to refer the expulsions to a committee to be set up by the Department of Education.
Mr Quinn said the bullying of teachers is quite a problem, although he would not talk about the incident when asked by RTÉ News yesterday.
“I would say it is an unusual occurrence and obviously I can’t comment on the details of this particular case,” he said.
“The teacher unions and management bodies have indicated to me that in some cases this can be a two-way street and pressure on teachers can be enormous in some areas.”
Mark Caffrey, the equality officer of the Irish Second-level Students’ Union, said the department needed to provide all schools with a clear policy on the use of social networking sites by students and staff.
“I believe the best way to reduce bullying of staff online is to have zero interaction between staff and students on sites like Facebook and Twitter that have anything to do with non-academic items.
“Students must be given advice about proper usage of sites, or reminded of how to act properly online.”
CHILDREN’S Minister Frances Fitzgerald has reacted with shock to the fact that a 10-year-old boy was forced out of school by Facebook bullies.
The minister said that the expanding phenomenon of cyber-bullying needs to be stamped out by schools.
Commenting on this newspaper’s frontpage story from yesterday, Minister Fitzgerald said: “God that’s very upsetting. This is extremely upsetting. There is a very serious situation.”
She said that cyber-bullying is now becoming a significant problem for schools.
“It’s as insidious and prevalent as bullying in the schoolyard or anywhere else. It’s quite serious in Ireland. It’s common and we need to tackle it,” she said.
The Herald revealed how a young boy was terrorised out of his school by child bullies who targeted him on Facebook.
Classmates set up a cruel internet campaign against the youngster and also physically hit him in school.
The bullying started six months ago when the schoolboy was punched in the face.
His parents, Gerry and Liza Dalton, spoke openly about how their lives had been affected by their son’s ordeal.
The situation escalated, culminating in the boy being victimised on Facebook and targeted at his home.
The shocking incident comes in the wake of the Phoebe Prince tragedy in 2010.
The 15-year-old Irish girl took her own life after suffering a campaign of bullying in the US.
Minister Fitzgerald told the Herald today that she is determined to help schools and parents tackle cyber-bullying.
“I think schools will have to be very aware of online bullying and they will have to deal with it in the same way that they deal with other bullying. There has to be a mechanism,” she said. “It’s coming up everywhere. The figures are quite high, the numbers that say they are being bullied online as well as face to face. What you have here are parents who aren’t as tuned into the new technology as their kids are.”
She said that parents need help to learn about new technologies so that they can react more quickly.
“I think there is a message in this for schools to be sensitive to cyber-bullying,” she said.
“There are lots of different programmes going on to help parents. Boards of managements are going to have to familiarise themselves with it.
“Schools need to be very clear about what they do with bullying. They have to tackle it, have guidelines in place and guidelines have been issued by the National Education Welfare Board,” she added.
AN AUSTRALIAN school principal fed up with cyber-bullying has gone to war on Facebook.
Chris Duncan, principal of Lindisfarne Anglican Grammar School, in Tweed Heads, New South Wales used his school newsletter to warn parents in bold print: “GET YOUR KIDS OFF FACEBOOK. THIS VERBAL SEWER IS HARMING YOUR CHILDREN.”
Mr Duncan said he decided to take the radical action after he helped a 16-year-old student who suffered serious abuse on Facebook.
He said he was aware of students who had been sent into an “appalling state” due to abuse they received on Facebook, with some children being more vulnerable than others.
“Some kids deal with it really well and other kids are mortally wounded by it and it’s just the way different kids react to things,” he told the Australian Daily News.
“I, and all of my colleague principals around the country, deal with very distressed young people and very distressed parents who have been subjected to what I would call tirades of verbal abuse on Facebook.”
Mr Duncan said he expelled two students last year for serious online harassment online of other students, one on Facebook and the other on the school’s internal email system.
He said he was not suggesting a blanket Facebook ban, but urged parents to be more proactive.
“My concern is parents are not overly aware of what their kids are subjected to until it gets to the point you’ve got a very distressed, abused young person,” he said.
“Certainly if they’ve got primary school age kids they shouldn’t be on Facebook for a start and with teenage kids they should be aware of what they’re doing, or limit their time on the computer at least.”
A NSW school whose students participated in a Facebook site used for cyber-bullying has threatened to expel students under 13 who are using the social networking site.
In an email to parents the principal of Northern Beaches Christian School, Stephen Harris, warned that students registered on Facebook and under the social network’s age limit of 13 would have their enrolment reviewed.
Either children had lied about their age or their parents had helped them join Facebook, he said. ”Let me be very clear – it is an immense parenting mistake to allow for either to happen,” Mr Harris wrote in the email sent on Tuesday.
As many as 7.5 million kids under the age of 13 are using the Facebook service, despite the company’s official prohibition — 5 million under the age of 10.
For minors who lack the experience or judgment to use a social network, this raises the scary potential of sexual predators tracking down kids who reveal their age in an online chat, cyberbullying and more, according to a new survey released Tuesday by Consumer Reports.
“A million kids were bullied on Facebook in the last year,” Jeff Fox, technology editor at Consumer Reports, told FoxNews.com. “A 10-year-old is not well-equipped to deal with those things.”
Fox said Facebook recognizes that kids should not use the service and prohibits access to those under 13. But the age verification system is weak, he said: It’s too easy to lie about your age. Facebook could instead use existing age verification services such as Privo. Or a parent could first prove their age using credit card verification and then vouch for the child’s age, he suggested.
Facebook declined to comment specifically to FoxNews.com about the Consumer Reports survey, but did release an official statement about the Consumer Reports survey.
“Recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to implement age restrictions on the Internet and that there is no single solution to ensuring younger children don’t circumvent a system or lie about their age,” the statement reads. “We appreciate the attention that these reports and other experts are giving this matter and believe this will provide an opportunity for parents, teachers, safety advocates and Internet services to focus on this area, with the ultimate goal of keeping young people of all ages safe online.”
A serious issue?
Child safety is but one aspect of a complex problem. The Consumer Reports survey found that has many as 5 million computers in U.S. households were exposed to a virus. There’s another twist: The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) makes it illegal to collect information about kids using an Internet service, said Ross Ellis, the founder of child-advocacy group Love Our Children USA.
In 2006, the FTC fined popular blogging site Xanga.com $1 million for collecting information about minors. The COPPA guidelines are strict, Ellis said, with plenty of paperwork to sign for a parent to approve a child’s access, and most sites just restrict access altogether.
Cyberbullying is yet another problem: Younger kids aren’t as emotionally developed to deal with adults and teens who make hurtful comments.
“Everything from hurt feelings to emotional abuse, isolation, depression and humiliation can result from posts on Facebook,” said Tom Jacobs, a retired juvenile judge who wrote the book “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” and runs the site Ask the Judge.
Consultant John Bambenek told FoxNews.com that the “nightmare scenario” is not for kids to flirt online or engage in instant message chat with strangers — but simply posting pictures. Predators can download the images and determine the child’s exact location using embedded GPS data. A program called Creeper even does this automatically, he warned.
Of course, these concerns should be taken in context: The survey focused on the 7.5 million kids using Facebook, but that’s a small percentage of the 500 million users worldwide.
Dealing with the problem
Social media expert Dr. Marcella Wilson of Wilson Consulting told FoxNews.com that parents should better monitor their child’s Internet access overall. She advises creating a contract between parent and child about how the Internet will be used.
Bob Gaines, a consultant with security firm AllCovered.com, said parents and kids should follow basic Facebook protocol. Avoid stating your location or saying you are home alone; in your profile, do not reveal your exact age; and of course, make sure you know your child’s username and password.
But in the end, Facebook needs to address the problem, said Denise Tayloe, the founder of Privo.
“Magically, everyone using these services is over 13,” she said — hinting that something is clearly amiss.
When the video of poor Casey Heynes aka The Punisher hit the internet it had many disbelieving how brazen bullies can be, it now seems long gone are the days of bullies restricting their movements to the playground and they are now venturing online and becoming cyberbullies.
There are many people trying to stamp out this new wave of cyberbullying, back in March Maddy Rowe brought us news on the US stepping in with Barrack Obama backing an anti-bullying campaign, now the next country to step up to the plate and say no to Facebook bullies is France.
This new campaign is being backed by both French Educational Minister Luc Chatel and the social network itself, their quest to squash this online behaviour will involve singling out students that have bullied other people through the network, once singled out these people will then have their accounts closed. You can read more about this in this post from Allfacebook.com.
Although the two parties hope to kick this campaign into full swing as soon as possible there is still a little bit of confusion regarding how they will define what constitutes as cyberbullying, for more serious cases Chatel had this to say “we will ensure that the victim’s relatives have a system to file complaints. This will be made available through a partnership with the Central Office dedicated to fight cyber-crimes.”
It’s good to see more people actively getting involved to try and stem the constant abuse that some people are put through when using social networking sites, have you ever experienced any kind of negativity whilst using sites like Facebook?