Minister for Children raises website concerns with Latvian counterpart

 

THE MINISTER for Children has contacted the minister with responsibility for communications in Latvia to raise concerns about the ask.fmwebsite following the deaths by suicide of two Irish teenagers who allegedly experienced cyberbullying on the site.

Frances Fitzgerald, supported by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, yesterday wrote to Latvian minister of transport Aivis Ronis, whose brief encompasses communications.

In the letter the minister raised concerns about the ask.fm, a website registered in Latvia that allows users post anonymously. The website does not moderate postings on the site.

The website’s terms require users to be aged 13 years or older, and says they should not post “threatening, harassing . . . harmful” or otherwise objectionable material, but notes it allows for anonymous content which it “does not monitor”.

Speaking in Dublin at the Digital Youth international symposium held in the TCD Science Gallery yesterday, Ms Fitzgerald said that while the internet amplified bullying it was not the cause.

“The internet is not the root cause of the problem. The message, not the medium, is the issue, the cruelty, not the conduit. When the medium is social networking sites it amplifies the message and complicates the cruelty by making it more visible. The issue is the cruelty, peer-to-peer cruelty.”

Ms Fitzgerald also met Simon Milner, Facebook’s director of policy for the UK and Ireland. She welcomed “the child-focused and user-friendly safeguards and supports” Facebook has in place but expressed concern that “other websites popular among Irish teenagers do not include the same safeguards”.

However, following the conference, Mr Milner said the banning of websites such as ask.fm, which are based in other jurisdictions, was “unrealistic”.

“It is not clear that legislation is the answer,” he said. “It is about companies doing the right thing and providing the right tools . . . but companies being legislated to do it isn’t necessarily going to help.”

Mr Milner said cyberbullying was something Facebook took very seriously, pointing to mechanisms such as allowing its users to block other people from posting on their Facebook pages or to report bullying behaviour.

“We can communicate with the individual who is being the bully and tell them this is not acceptable and often we find that that they’ll change the behaviour,” he said, also pointing to a tool that allows users to report bullying via email to someone common to both the bully and the victim.

He also pointed to a drop-down menu located at the top right-hand corner of each individual post where users can report content.

Facebook also provides a web page, facebook.com/safety, where parents and teachers can access information and advice even if they are not Facebook members.