Children and Youth Affairs

Submission by
Clare Daly TD
The Joint Committee on Transport and Communications in relation to the abuse of social media and cyber-bullying

Main Points

1. implementation of a national education programme dealing with online etiquette

2. protect children through educating the correct use of internet technologies

3. bring industry in from the cold and task them with being part of educational change

4. curtailing the use of the internet simply won’t work

5. traditional media have a role and responsibility in their reporting

We are all concerned by the media reports of increased incidents of bullying in Ireland today. Either we are amid an epidemic of bullying or the media are pursuing a moral panic on the topic. Either way we have a problem that is growing. These moral panics regarding communications have existed before in the form of Citizen Band Radio & the early days of SMS Texting. Common sense always prevails versus knee-jerk reactions to problems that cluster. Solid evidence and advice of experts in the various areas that cross into social media / social networking and cyber bullying should be taken, and an overall picture of the situation must emerge before a prescriptive solution can be finally known.

Many people have become accustomed to internet technologies since the arrival of the world wide web in 1993, but at all stages there are new people becoming active online for the first time. The population that have used internet connected devices have developed some etiquette and some have also developed bad habits in relation to internet use over the years.  The internet industry refer to this as netiquette. What has not percolated into society is education for adults and children where the positive uses of the medium can be explored and the negative uses be warned against and responses adapted.

We must protect children who, on one hand have the upper hand in technology literacy, but also have less of life’s experience to deal with problems as they occur. While children can teach the older generation a thing or two about technology, the elders in society can teach all society about the correct ways to deal with one another whether offline or online.

The internet industry (ISPs, Telco’s, social networks, search advertisers) are happy to sell more and more internet connected devices, and faster and faster broadband speeds but little or no educational programmes are forthcoming on the correct use of networks. Industry must share a role with society, parents, schools, community and government in furthering media literacy in the area of social media and internet networks.

The print & broadcast media must be enrolled in the education programmes also. The media must take heed of advice on the reporting of bullying and suicide from our NGO sector.  These Charity / NGOs have the expertise in the area of bullying, cyber bullying and suicide. They have the advice readily available. Still we read in the papers terms like “commit” suicide, when suicide was decriminalised years ago. The Irish media must also examine its own role, where it pursues members of the public for inclusion in their publications, naming people and ending with countless libel cases being lost in court. Many tactics of over aggressive journalism & photo journalism are simply bullying. These same press outlets then run high profile campaigns to end cyber bullying without noticing their hypocrisy.

Government must not seek to limit the flow of discussion on social media. Many incidents of online bullying are already illegal and subject to the laws of Ireland. Online bullying has often got a better audit trail for evidence than offline bullying. Gardai must be resourced and skilled in this area where cyber crime is exploding and cyber crimes against the person / bullying are on the increase. The limiting of free speech is not the solution, blocking services and content will not work as the internet was designed to withstand nuclear attack, cyber attacks and bullying will find another route other than the blocked route. A restricted internet simply won’t work.

The world’s leading social media networks have set up European headquarters in Ireland. They pay a fraction of the 12.5% corporation tax while here. The government must demand action from these multinationals similar to the way the Irish Data Protection Commissioner has been able to bring Europe wide data compliance from the big players located here.

An industry funded nationwide internet literacy programme on the scale of Anseo is Ansiúd in the 1980s & the work of the National Adult Literacy Agency of late is urgently required. Only then can we teach ourselves the correct use of knife & fork for the internet age.

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