Cyberbullying and suicide are not necessarily linked and should be treated as separate issues, a report by an Oireachtas committee has said.
The report, accepted by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communication last week and published today (Thurs), also says there is no need for separate legislation to deal with online bullying.
It was prepared following the committee’s hearings in March on the issues of social media and cyberbullying.
Concerns were raised about possible links between online bullying and suicide last year following the deaths last year of two teenagers, Ciara Pugsley (15) in Leitrim and Erin Gallagher (13) in Donegal. Both girls took their own lives after being subjected to alleged bullying campaigns on the ask.fm site.
The report states, however: “While the committee is aware of cases where victims of cyberbullying have taken their own lives, it is worth noting North American research which found that cyberbullying is rarely the sole or main cause of death by suicide.”
It also concludes that there is already legislation in place to deal with cyberbullying. This contrasts with a recommendation in the latest report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, that cyberbullying be made a specific criminal offence.
“In the case of children and young people being bullied by their peers, it is the committee’s opinion that these matters are best dealt with outside the courts system unless they involve cases which are persistent or unresponsive to other forms of intervention,” the report says.
“Some cases may be best dealt with within schools, as is increasingly done in the USA where cyberbullying (even if it occurs outside school time) is seen as disruptive to the learning environment.”
“Where cases arise which need a stronger response, the committee is satisfied that there is already legislation in place to deal with cyberbullying though identification and follow-through of cyberbullying remains a problem.”
It does, however, recommend that the definition of bullying in the new national procedures for schools should include a specific reference to cyberbullying.
The report recommends that employers be made aware of the importance of introducing a social media policy and that they should be aware that cyberbullying falls within the legal definition of harrasment.
Stating that the Government’s Office for Internet Safety does not adequately deal with cyberbullying, the report also says a single body should be given responsibility for co-ordinating the regulation of social media content.
Funding and organisational models for such an agency should be agreed with the industry.
The committee heard submissions from a number of parties, including social media companies Facebook, Twitter and Google, all of which have a major presence in Ireland.
Google told the committee it believed one area of importance was education law enforcement authorities about the tools already available to them.
Eight recommendations in the report also include one that social media companies must be swift in closing down social media accounts set up by children in contravention of the companies’ age restrictions.