Cy­ber bul­ly­ing must be tack­led by Min­is­ter

Bray People - - COMMENT -

HARDLY A week has gone by in re­cent times with­out me­dia rev­e­la­tions of yet an­other ugly in­ci­dent of In­ter­net bul­ly­ing, some­times with tragic con­se­quences. It has the ap­pear­ance - but wrongly so - of an epi­demic and those in the Government, and else­where, with a lean­ing to­wards cen­sor­ship would be happy to im­pose yet more free­dom of speech re­stric­tions in an ef­fort to curb the prob­lem. The so­lu­tion, how­ever, lies else­where.

The lat­est in­ci­dent of in­ter­net bul­ly­ing, re­ported in na­tional me­dia at the week­end, in­volves an on­line mob as­sault on a teenage girl. The root of the abuse was an in­ci­dent in a Dublin pizza par­lour in which the well-heeled daugh­ter of a well-off ac­coun­tant ap­par­ently launched a tirade of petu­lant abuse against a group who were taunt­ing and film­ing her on their mo­bile phones. The phone video was sub­se­quently posted on YouTube (but has since been re­moved) and quickly went ‘vi­ral', re­sult­ing in a tor­rent of abuse against the un­for­tu­nate teenager and her fa­ther, and what started out as a silly in­ci­dent in a restau­rant has turned into mind­less hound­ing in a very pub­lic fo­rum.

The girl's tor­ment has prompted Meath mi­nor foot­baller Shane McEn­tee to come to her de­fence, call­ing on the face­less bul­lies who are mak­ing her life hell to “cop on ... af­ter all the re­cent tragedies”. Mr McEn­tee knows only too well the im­pact cy­ber bul­ly­ing can have. Be­fore Christ­mas his un­cle, ju­nior Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Shane McEn­tee took his own life af­ter be­ing sub­jected to a vi­cious cam­paign of In­ter­net bul­ly­ing.

There clearly is a need to ad­dress this phe­nom­e­non and Jus­tice Min­is­ter Alan Shat­ter could be the man to at­tempt this. Right now Min­is­ter Shat­ter is con­tem­plat­ing re­vis­it­ing the 2006 Pri­vacy Bill with a view to ‘stak­ing out the lim­i­ta­tions to free­dom of speech’. He is, ap­par­ently, much ex­er­cised in this by the petty con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the publi­ca­tion in the Ir­ish Daily Star of pho­tos of a top­less Kate Mi­dle­ton, but his move to­wards lim­it­ing free­dom of speech could also en­com­pass in­ter­net bul­ly­ing - and gain jus­ti­fi­ca­tion from the re­cent tragedies that have oc­curred.

How­ever, Min­is­ter Shat­ter would be cod­ding him­self if he were to think that what ba­si­cally amounts to cen­sor­ship is an an­swer to the prob­lem of In­ter­net bul­ly­ing. The In­ter­net is far too wide in its reach, too in­ter­na­tional, to be sub­dued by Ir­ish leg­is­la­tion, un­less the com­pa­nies' head­quar­ters were based in Ire­land and there­fore came un­der our laws.

What is needed is not to cen­sor free speech in an at­tempt to curb a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that is far out­side the con­trol of the state; in­stead we need to ed­u­cate peo­ple to use this pow­er­ful medium re­spon­si­bly. That isn't some­thing Min­is­ter Shat­ter will achieve by leg­is­la­tion, but schools, on the other hand, could do a lot to ed­u­cate young peo­ple about how and how not to use the In­ter­net. Most of all though this is a cam­paign that must be­gin in the home where young peo­ple need to learn to have re­spect for one an­other.

In this re­gard par­ents could well ask them­selves if they know ex­actly how their chil­dren are us­ing the smart phones they got for Christ­mas. They should know, be­cause the In­ter­net is an open door to the wide world and not ev­ery­thing out there is good.

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