Slane sex act photos: a salutary lesson of how social media can exploit and abuse

Experts say more awareness needed of consequences of sharing material online

For professionals involved in child protection and anti-bullying, it is a reminder to young people – and all users of social media – to think twice about putting information about themselves or others online.

For professionals involved in child protection and anti-bullying, it is a reminder to young people – and all users of social media – to think twice about putting information about themselves or others online.

Tue, Aug 20, 2013, 22:47

Teenagers take risks. Sometimes they’re stupid, shameful and repugnant risks.

Once, the consequences might not have lasted longer than a bad hangover. But this is the age of social media.

When photographs of a teenage girl involved in a sex act during Eminem’s concert in Slane were posted online at the weekend, they spread with frightening speed.

Hundreds shared the photos as many alternatively mocked the girl, or praised her sexual partner as a hero. The girl was said to be distraught over the incident and was reportedly in hospital.

The events provide yet another salutary lesson on how the technology which allows people to effortlessly share information also confers the ability to exploit, abuse and create victims.

Social media companies said they moved to try and block access to the images of the girl after they went viral on Sunday – but it was too late to contain an ever-expanding number of of re-tweets, shares and likes.

For professionals involved in child protection and anti-bullying, it is a reminder to young people – and all users of social media – to think twice about putting information about themselves or others online.

“We should give young people credit – most are reasonably aware and do care about these issues of privacy and sharing information,” said head of DIT’s school of media Brian O’Neill, who has done extensive research on the safety of children online .

“But it’s important to instil a recognition among users of social media that anything posted online is very public. Privacy is very hard to maintain. A digital footprint extends very widely.”

‘Worst scenario’

Professor Mona O’Moore, co-ordinator of the anti-bullying centre at Trinity College, Dublin, said young people should always think of the “worst scenario” before putting information online about themselves or others.

Groups such as youth support service Spunout.ie have a series of practical steps for young people who are the victims of cyberbullying or invasion of privacy online.

The first thing they advise is to step away from social media sites and deactivate accounts.It also suggests talking about the issue with friends and family members.

Lastly, it advises tackling any abusive or bullying behaviour through complaints to social network sites or to gardaí, if necessary.

Spunout.ie’s Ian Power said people needed to challenge bullying where they saw it and not simply think it was okay to pass comment on depriving someone of their privacy.

He pointed out comments on the Slane photos were “not funny or banter” and many of those commenting were not teenagers, but men in their 20s and 30s.

Parents, too, have a crucial role to play. Mr O’Neill said open discussion between parents and children was important to help define what was responsible or acceptable behaviour.

Support:
The Samaritans
Tel: 1850-60 90 90, text: 087 2 60 90 90, or e-mail: jo@samaritans.org
Spun Out: www.spunout.ie
Childline: Tel: 1800 666 666, text ’talk’ to 50101, or visit www.childline.ie