Ireland to get tough on cyber-bullies – new rules recommended for social networks

18 Jul 2013

An investigation into cyberbullying via social network sites by an Oireachtas Committee has recommended new rules whereby social networks active in Ireland, employers and school principals will be expected to take swift action where cases of bullying arise.

The report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications follows the loss of a number of young lives to suicide this past year, allegedly due to bullying on social networking sites. Cyberbullying has also been blamed for the suicide of junior Government minister Shane McEntee.

The committee has decided that cyberbullying is a serious issue that can have lasting effects on those affected.

The committee acknowledged that more and more children under the allowable age are setting up social media profiles. It recommends that social networks like Facebook must be vigilant and be swift in closing down the account and taking down all information in relation to it. Parents, too, must be made aware of their responsibilities in this regard.

All professionals working with children must follow Child Protection Guidelines to aid them if they encounter issues relating to cyberbullying and inappropriate use of social media.

It calls for guidelines specific to cyberbullying to be put in place nationally with clear protocols for school principals to follow.

Cyberbullying not confined to schools

The issue of cyberbullying isn’t just being confined to the schools, and the committee recommends employers be made aware of the importance of introducing a social media policy. It points out that cyberbullying falls within the term ‘harassment’ and Section 10 of the Non-fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 may apply.

The committee also recommends a review of best practice in relation to the registration of prepaid SIM cards to prevent them being used for malicious or illegal purposes.

Public officials in the criminal justice system will need to engage in professional development and given clear guidance on how to deal with cyberbullying.

The committee also recommends that the ICT industry place more emphasis on educating parents, teachers and children on how to safely use social media, including peer-to-peer learning amongst children themselves.

“Social media outlets are changing the way many of our citizens interact with one another,” said committee chairman John O’Mahony, TD.

“Over four public hearings held earlier this year, our committee debated in detail challenges facing individuals, families and communities from the rise of social media, including the challenges posed by cyberbullying and online harassment. Informed by these hearings and by the many submissions received from the public, we have prepared a report containing what we believe are practical, clearheaded and common-sense recommendations to be considered by Government.

“There is no doubt that social media has immense potential for public good and civic engagement and the committee’s primary concern was to ensure that it does so without impacting adversely on people’s individual rights. Underpinning our recommendations is the need for a more co-ordinated approach to tackling the irresponsible use of social media channels which spans State departments and agencies and the social media companies themselves,” O’Mahony said.

Cyberbullying image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years