The best ways to stop the “disturbing” trend of cyberbullying were discussed at a major conference in Dublin yesterday.
The head of global safety outreach and public policy for Twitter said the company’s goal to stop abuse on the site was to empower the user to protect themselves.
However, Patricia Cartes said the reason “eggheads” – accounts with no names or description of who the person is – were allowed was because it was in line with the company’s freedom-of-speech approach.
“There are areas in the world where using the internet is not safe,” she said.
Ms Cartes said as the company did not collect dates of birth, they did not know what ages their users were.
“If an account is reported, we will take action on that account,” she said.
Ms Cartes was asked by a member of the audience why the minimum age for social media use should not be increased from 13 years to 18 years.
“Restricting access to under 18s would be a mistake. There are some really positive uses of technology out there,” she said.
Facebook’s director of policy for UK, Middle East and Africa Simon Milner said users had to use their real name on its site but they could not stop people under the minimum age of 13 from setting up accounts.
Proof of age
He said the company took action when an account was reported and Facebook could ask the user to prove their age.
“We know we don’t always get it right, but we have established what are known as ‘Insafe’ helplines around Europe to help,” he said.
He said removing people’s comments or photographs was a “complicated area” as people had the right to express themselves.
“We operate a zero tolerance to bullying and harassment,” he said. “With regard to anonymity, users have to use their real name, if not, we will ask the user to take it down or we can have it blocked.”
Founder of the Digital Youth Council and Kidtech Harry McCann, who had asked a question from the audience about what Facebook could do to stop underage children from using the site, said his question had not been answered.
“It really made me feel that Facebook are taking the lazy approach to ensuring that they are sticking to the guidelines they have laid down. It is simply not good enough,” he said.
Senior facilitator at Bully4u Kevin Deering said children as young as seven and eight were on Facebook.
“I met one little girl who came up to me after a workshop to say she didn’t realise her behaviour was bullying behaviour,” he said.
MEP Seán Kelly, a former teacher and GAA president who opened the conference, said young people did not have the life experience to cope with threats and harassment online.
“Cyberbullying is a disturbing trend . . . an epidemic that is growing rapidly,” he said.
“It would only drive the issue underground,” he said.
Mr Byrne said all the internet service providers needed to “do more” to stop cyberbullying.
“In all instances of bullying, it should be reported to the gardaí.”
(Facebook’s Simon Milner, MEP Seán Kelly MEP, special rapporteur on child protection Geoffrey Shannon and Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw)