The tragic death of 13-year-old Erin Gallagher, from Ballybofey, Co Donegal, which was due to cyber-bullying has thrown the spotlight on how widespread this form of bullying is, and has sparked a very important debate on how such horrific abuse can be stamped out.
Erin, a second year student, posted on an online forum where she made reference to the fact that she was being bullied. Twenty four hours later she was dead. For a 13-year-old to find no alternative way to escape her tormentors but to take her own life is heartbreaking. A few weeks earlier, Co Leitrim teenager Ciara Pugsley (15 ) also took her own life after she too was a victim of cyber-bullying.
Given the predominance of social media in our lives, children have particularly become more than au fait with using social networking sites, which they connect with on their phones or computers. With such a upsurge in usage, cyber-bullying — which is the intimidation of anyone through electronic means — is on the rise. Back in May of this year Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, while speaking at the anti-bullying forum, highlighted the increase in cyber-bullying which research finding that one in four girls and one in six boys in Ireland have been involved in cyber-bullying either as a victim, bully or both. This is a truly shocking statistic.
Victims are harassed, excluded, intimidated or imitated. Unlike physical bullying where the victims can get away from their bullies and find safe refuges, such as in the sanctuary of their homes, cyber-bullying constantly follows the victim everywhere as vile messages can be posted, or sent, on a 24/7 basis via texts, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Offensive comments can be displayed online, rumours can be spread, their online accounts can be hacked into, or offensive images can be posted.
It is a terrible psychological abuse and those who act in such a repulsive manner more than often partake as they act anonymously. This cloak of anonymity allows them to make comments which they may not say in ‘real life’ when they are standing face to face with their victim.
Spun Out, an independent, youth powered national charity working to empower young people to create personal and social change, are offering some great advice as to what to do when being bullied by text or online. The main message is to not suffer in silence.
They advise not to reply to the messages; to save the evidence (photo/email/video/web post, etc ) as proof; to tell a trusted adult; to report the bullying to the gardaí and to report the bullying to the technology providers such as the mobile phone company, web host or website owner.
Parents also need to get involved with their children’s online life. It is important that parents know what their children’s phone and internet usage is and monitor their activity.
This vile bullying needs to be stamped out immediately so that no further cyber related tragedies will shatter the lives of Irish families.