Facebook and Department of Education meet over ‘cyberbullying’ issue

Social media site and school principals to work together to address concerns over online behaviour

A meeting between Department of Education officials and the social networking site Facebook was described as ’positive and constructive’. Photograph: Martin Keene/PA Wire

A meeting between Department of Education officials and the social networking site Facebook was described as ’positive and constructive’. Photograph: Martin Keene/PA Wire

 

A meeting between Facebook and the Department of Education aimed at finding a way to tackle online bullying was described as “positive and constructive”.

Department officials met with representatives of the social networking giant after a recent meeting due to be attended by a school principals’ body was cancelled.

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) had been seeking a meeting with Facebook to discuss cyberbullying.

Teachers want the company to appoint a liaison person so they can try to eliminate hurtful or bullying comments made by and against pupils using the network.

In the Dáil last month, Mr Quinn said he was “ very disappointed” Facebook had indicated it would not engage directly with the NAPD and facilitate a meeting with the body.

While the principals’ body was not represented at Thursday’s meeting, the department said officials had a “positive and constructive meeting with Facebook representatives”.

“Agreement was reached on a way forward to involve Facebook, the Department, second-level school management and leadership bodies, including the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, to work together to tackle bullying in Irish schools and to provide an effective channel for school leaders to escalate concerns when required.”

It said Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn was pleased with the meeting’s outcome.

'Positive'

A spokeswoman for Facebook also said it had been a “constructive and positive meeting”.

“We’ve agreed a way forward to work more closely with the department and key organisations in the Irish education sector to ensure young people and teachers have the best possible experience on Facebook, including knowing what to do in cases of bullying.”

Earlier this year, Facebook admitted it had a “serious problem” with underage users. The site forbids under-13s from registering accounts. While its privacy settings and policies have come under scrutiny, it does provide a means for users to block other users from contacting them or posting on their own pages.

However, the company has estimated it has at least 83 million false accounts registered. Senior executives have said the bullying issue is a society-wide problem that cannot be eradicated online.

Speaking in Dublin in February, director of policy for the UK and Ireland, Simon Milner, said there was no “silver bullet” solution for dealing with the cyberbullying problem. But he maintained many children were registering accounts with their parents’ permission.

“What’s really striking is that in most situations the parents know about and have actually helped their children lie about their age to use the service,” Mr Milner said.

Nevertheless, the site has come under fire for hosting apps for other popular networking sites, such as ask.fm, which operate less rigorous safety controls and fail to monitor harmful content.

Last year two Irish teenagers, Ciara Pugsley (15) in Leitrim and Erin Gallagher (13) in Donegal, took their own lives after being subjected to alleged bullying campaigns on the ask.fm site.

Mr Milner said Facebook did not condone the environment provided by ask.fmand described some of the incidents of bullying linked to the site as “horrendous”.

More recently Facebook has moved to defend and clarify its policies on gender-based hate speech amid pressure from advertisers.

The company said there was “no place” on the social network for content that was threatening, incited violence or was “deemed to be genuinely or directly harmful”, but that “distasteful content on its own” does not violate its policies.