The mother of a young woman who took her life following sustained online bullying says she has been ignored by politicians since she approached them for help earlier this year.
Jackie Fox said her daughter Nicole Fox (21) died last January and had gone through three years of harassment on her social media accounts beforehand.
Four months after her death, Ms Fox gave a presentation to TDs at Leinster House in an effort to have tougher laws introduced to govern online behaviour. But she said efforts to follow up with those who had voiced their support have been met with silence ever since.
“If people only knew the real me,” said Ms Fox. “I go home and I cry every night for Nicole...it feels like a lifetime since I’ve seen her face. People have to understand what it’s doing to the kids.”
During her presentation in May to various TDs, Ms Fox appealed for support in criminalising anonymous bullying and incitement to self-harm.
“I have heard nothing. No response,” she said, despite having followed up with emails.
Ms Fox was supported by other mothers whose children have undergone similar experiences and she now plans to escalate her campaign for a change in law.
Online bullying and harassment continues to be an issue with no obvious solutions – commentators call variously on social media companies, parents and government to take responsibility.
In a survey of more than 1,000 school principals last May, 37 per cent of primary school children were found to have experienced cyber bullying.
Last year, new measures were announced in the United Kingdom for a voluntary levy on companies such as Google and Facebook to help raise awareness around such issues.
People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, a member of the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care, has also called for a tax on social media advertising to help fund education programmes.
Speaking in support of Ms Fox, Mr Kenny said online bullying “has become now a 24/7 sport and it goes into the children’s bedrooms”.
Sarah Mannion Butler, whose young son is in secondary school, said he had suffered significant health problems and had been hospitalised as a consequence of cyberbullying among his peers.
She recalled her family’s experience of attending a programme for children who were suicidal: “There we sat in a room filled with 15 parents who I can safely tell you all, at least 10 were there for the same reason we were; their teens were being bullied through social networks,” she said. “How do you fix a boy who says he wants to die?”
Ms Mannion Butler, and another mother Geraldine Swift, said the anonymity afforded by online harassment was a particular problem, making it more difficult to confront those responsible directly.
Ms Swift, also requesting anonymity for her child’s sake, said he had been bullied to the point where he also required medical attention.
“They did this until he broke down completely,” she said.