Teenagers vulnerable to internet taunting


CHILD SUICIDE:THE RECENT deaths by suicide of two teenage girls have thrown the issue of cyber-bullying into stark relief.

Erin Gallagher (13) and Ciara Pugsley (15) were users of ask.fm, a popular social question-and-answer website that allows users to post anonymous comments and questions on each others’ profiles.

Following the girls’ deaths, messages left on Facebook tribute pages called for the removal of the anonymity option, which, critics say, allows teenagers to post hurtful comments towards each other.

“People say stuff that they wouldn’t say to your face on the site],” says Carmen McInerney (16), standing with a group of friends on Grafton Street in Dublin. “People give their true opinions on it.”

She has “never seen anything too terrible on the site. It’s just people giving their honest opinion.”

Emilie Ellis (16) however refuses to join the site because “it’s kind of like asking to get anonymously attacked”. She believes teenagers use the site because “they just want to see what people think of them”, even if what is being said constitutes bullying.

Carina McKeown, a spokeswoman for Beat Bullying, a British anti-bullying organisation, says young people “use technology and social media to communicate as part of their everyday lives”.

For teenagers, “there isn’t a lot of difference between online and offline”.

“It’s not easy to tell them to pull the plug,” she adds. That would mean cutting off one of their key communication channels. “It really is a part of young people’s everyday lives now.”

Research by Beat Bullying shows cyber-bullying has affected one in three British teenagers at some point, while one in 13 is consistently harassed online.

Ms McKeown claims 44 per cent of teenage suicides in the UK are linked to some form of bullying. Cyber-bullying, she adds, has removed the traditional barriers so that now bullying can no longer “be left at the playground”.

Calls and emails to ask.fmyesterday, seeking a comment, were not returned.

Following the death of Ciara Pugsley in September, the site’s chief executive released a statement saying: “Of course there is a problem with cyber-bullying in social media, but, as far as we can see, we only have this situation in Ireland and the UK most of all, trust me . . . It seems like children are more cruel in these countries.”