A quarter of Irish nine to 16-year-olds have been bullied online, a DIT and Kids Online study has revealed. The study, published in time for Safer Internet Day 2013, found that 69pc of parents of victims have no idea their children have been bullied online.
The findings are worrying in light of the recent spate of suicides that saw at least three teenage girls in different parts of Ireland take their own lives after being bullied online.
The research found that Ireland’s level of online bullying is above average compared to the rest of Europe, the impact of the bullying involved cuts deeper and for 44pc of kids who admitted to having been bullied, it has had a lasting effect in their lives.
Nearly a quarter (22pc) reported that its impact lasted for a few days. Some 8pc felt it lasted a few weeks and 14pc were more deeply affected for a couple of months or more. This is a very high level of impact compared to the equivalent European finding of 2pc.
A quarter of 9 to 16-year olds experienced some form of bullying, both online and offline. Levels of bullying in Ireland are above average compared with the 25 other countries involved with the report.
Some 28pc of victims tried to fix the problem themselves. A quarter hoped the problem would go away by itself.
The most technical response to cyber bullying is to block the person (48pc). Very few (15pc) reported the bullying using an online reporting tool or contacted an online adviser whose job it is to deal with such problems.
For children who reported that they had been bullied on the internet, just 29pc of parents were aware of this. More worryingly, 68pc of parents did not know their children have been bullied online.
Most young people who have been bullied talk to somebody about it (71pc), mostly a friend or one of their parents. Very few (6pc) speak to a teacher.
Up to a quarter of 15 to 16-year-olds also said they have bullied others. Nearly half of those who have bullied others online have also themselves been victims of cyber bullying.
Being the target of hurtful or nasty messages is the most commonly reported form of cyber bullying.
More experienced internet users and those who frequently use social networking sites reported higher levels of bullying compared to those who use the internet less.
One of the outcomes of Safer Internet Day is a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook called ‘Watch Your Space’ by Webwise.
Another is the Garda Secondary Schools Programme which has brought out a new module ‘Connect with Respect’, which aims to change the attitude of bystanders and make them more likely to intervene in online bullying situations.
“The internet and social media are fantastic tools which bring benefits to so many people,” the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said.
“They have certainly revolutionised the process of teaching and learning, which has changed hugely since my own school days. However, there is an insidious element to them when they are used with the wrong intentions.
“Safer Internet Day highlights the safe use of these resources, and how we can all act to protect ourselves against a minority of people who seek to harm others. The slogan ‘Connect with Respect’ is a simple one to bear in mind for all online activity and I would urge students and young people to do so.”
Online sex abuse on the rise
The dangers facing young people online extend further than bullying by their peers. According to the BBC, in the UK the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) also discovered an increasing trend where children are being groomed over the internet by potential abusers.
In what is an alarming new trend, offenders may be targeting hundreds of victims at a time over social media sites. In 7pc of 1,145 online abuse cases offenders attempted to meet a child they contacted online.
Online sexual abuse is conducted via webcams, instant messenger apps and social networking sites.
CEOP warns that once initial contact is made it often escalates into threats and intimidation and in some cases offenders hack into the accounts of victims and only let them get their accounts back if they do what the abuser tells them to do.
In one disturbing case, two brothers in Kuwait targeted 110 children worldwide, including 78 in the UK. They were jailed for blackmail offences last December. The pair pretended to be somebody the children already knew on social networking and instant messenger apps.