Women’s Aid: Social media ‘provides new level of abuse’

Organisation joins with Facebook to produce online safety guide

Facebook and Ireland's Woman's Aid have produced an online safety guide for women in a bid to halt digital abuse by current and former partners.

Margaret Martin, director of Women's Aid, said social media platforms provide a new level of abuse.

“All of the technological advances are being used and abused. Social media in particular is instantaneous, it’s more direct; now people have direct access to each other.

“The other things that social media does in particular, is it increases the volume,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland


“One of the issues in terms of harassment is that it has to be repetitive, but one single video or photograph of an intimate partner in a compromising position that’s uploaded can do massive damage because it may be only one upload, but the number of views can be in their thousands, and then it can spread exponentially to a whole range of other sites - it can be uploaded on to porn sites, etc,” she said.

Women’s Aid stressed the perpetrator is responsible for the abuse not the victims.

Senior counsel Pauline Walley said: "The focus is on the victim of this type of online harassment; it doesn't focus on the perpetrators nor does it focus on who might be a potential perpetrator.

“One of the things that cyber psychologists in this area have realised is that people who harass online would often be people who would not harass offline,” she said.

“Because the online environment is perceived as police-free and as rule-free, ordinary decent upright citizens can sometimes become a very different type of person when they behave online,” Ms Walley said.

Facebook Ireland safety policy manager Julie de Baillencourt said: "We very much rely on people to tell us when they believe they are targeted or when they see content that is inappropriate.

“We have a number of things in place to prevent fake accounts from being created at scale - it’s never fool proof - when people are intent on being abusive they can be very creative in how they go about it,” she said.

“So our objective is to make sure that we have the right tools in place, we have the right partners who can also let us know - here’s what we’re seeing, here’s a new trend, how we’re thinking about it. We always want to be one step ahead.”

Ms Walley added guidelines should also be available on what behaviour is not acceptable online.

The Women’s Aid helpline is 1800 341 900.