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Experts warn against cyber bullying after tragedy

Ronan Hughes
Brendan Hughes

AN EXPERT last night spoke of growing concerns about cyber threats and online bullying following the tragic death of Ronan Hughes.

Dr Aisling Parkes from the school of law at University College Cork said the problem is "extremely difficult to regulate".

She said cyber bullying is also more difficult to tackle than physical abuse because the perpetrators often remain anonymous online and fail to witness the consequences of their actions.

"Online bullying presents more challenges than traditional bullying. With physical bullying you know the perpetrators and restorative justice measures can be put in place, the bully can be disciplined," she said.

"With cyber bullying you don't always know who it is, and the affect of it is perpetuated because it is not only the images online but it's the 'likes' and comments.

"Online bullying is something that is permanent, it continues and is kind of perpetuated."

Dr Parkes said there are huge psychological pressures on young people who become the victims of cyber threats or bullying.

"The generation that is at school today, they are the social media generation. There is no picking up the phone to talk to someone.

"Most correspondence, most socialising is done through the internet and through texting  that's the norm for these children.

"In any scenario where a child has posted something online or shared pictures and then they realise that it has been shared in an arena that they never wanted, then the psychological implications are huge.

"They are thinking 'everybody is going to be talking about me, everybody is going to laugh at me'  it can spiral out of control."

She said every government must ensure they have policies in place to protect children from cyber bullying and urged parents to educate themselves on the risks.

Teenagers can become the victims of online bullying after receiving hurtful messages anonymously through the internet.

However, concerns have also been raised about schoolchildren facing bullying or even blackmail after sharing revealing images of themselves online.

Last month London psychiatrist Natasha Bijlani warned that cyber bullying and so-called 'sexting' by young people can lead to depression in later life.

She said she expected to see a rise in teenagers and adults self-harming because of exposure to online and digital abuse.

The latest social media mobile app to cause bullying concerns among young people is Yik Yak, which allows users to post messages anonymously within a 10-mile radius.

Internet sites such as ask.fm have also faced criticism after being linked to the deaths of several young people.

Donegal schoolgirl Erin Gallagher (13) took her own life in October 2012 after she received a string of abusive messages on the website.

Her older sister Shannon (15) took her own life weeks later.

Their mother Lorraine Gallagher called for ask.fm, which allows people to ask each other anonymous questions, to be shut down.

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