Northern Ireland news

Social networking site defends policies on cyber-bullying following death of Elle Trowbridge (16)

Elle Trowbridge, who took her own life after being targeted by cyber bullies
Marie Louise McConville

A social networking site has defended its policies on cyber-bullying following the death of a Co Tyrone teenager who was repeatedly abused online.

ASKfm, which allows users to create profiles and send each other questions anonymously, said in recent years it had made "a huge investment to improve safety".

The globally popular site is one of three messaging services which were used to send bullying and abusive messages to Elle Trowbridge, who took her own life just weeks after her 16th birthday.

A talented showjumper, the teen was found at her home in Killyclogher outside Omagh on April 24.

Her mother Mandy said she changed from being "vibrant and caring" after using apps where she faced taunts from nameless bullies telling her to kill herself.

Ms Trowbridge said the Drumragh Integrated College pupil had been "very scarred" by her experiences.

First targeted at the age of 11, Elle received messages on ASKfm telling her to harm herself.

The young girl's life took a downward spiral and she began to self-harm.

She was also sent abusive messages on BBM - an instant messenger application included on BlackBerry devices.

Diagnosed with depression at the age of 14, Elle's family did everything they could to get her the help she needed.

However, in February this year she was once again targeted, this time on the SimSimi App.

Her mother Mandy, who has been left "heartbroken", is now campaigning to make the online world safer for young people and is calling on parents to "take parental responsibility for our children" and get educated about technology.

Adopting the slogan `No More', Ms Trowbridge is also hoping to work with internet providers to make apps and social networking sites safer.

ASKfm said yesterday that it takes its responsibility to protect users "very seriously".

It said "no user is completely anonymous even on ASKfm".

"If a user breaks the law they can be identified and details given to law enforcement, just like any other social media service."

A spokeswoman said the service had also established global 24-hour monitoring, improved easier access to safety controls and appointed an expert safety board.

"ASKfm wholeheartedly agrees with Ms Trowbridge, and respect and applaud her in speaking out about the importance of supporting parents and educators in understanding how apps work and the risks they may pose for young people".

ChildLine described online bullying as "one of the biggest child protection challenges of this generation".

It said in 2015-16, it carried out 318 counselling sessions with children from Northern Ireland who had contacted the service about bullying.

"It is a problem intensified by the ever-increasing presence of the internet," said a spokeswoman.

"Years ago, a child could escape their bullies when they left the playground and get some respite in the safety of their home. Now the 24/7 nature of the internet means that a child can be targeted around the clock."

:: Children and young people worried about bullying can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 or www.childline.org.uk. Anyone affected by this story can also contact Lifeline on 080 8808 8000 or the Samaritans on 116 123.

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