Tech companies front up against cyber bullies on Safer Internet Day

Safer Internet Day 2019
Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, An Garda Síochána; Carolan Lennon, eir; Jackie Fox; and Minister for Children & Youth Affairs Dr Katherine Zappone

Public and private sectors step up efforts to inform and protect children

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5 February 2019 | 0

Tech companies across Ireland are marking Safer Internet Day by announcing a series of initiatives to teach young people about the dangers of going online.

Microsoft revealed the findings of its Digital Civility Index (DCI), showing that Ireland ranks 11th out of 22 countries by the level of civility and safety in online interactions, compared to the UK which ranked first and the US second.

In the past year in Ireland, adults and teenagers aged 13-17 experienced an average of three online risks each. Online risks include all forms of unwanted online contact, and are broken down into four categories: behavioural, intrusive, reputational and sexual.

Online risks had some of the strongest impacts on millennials (72%) and teenage girls (70%) in terms of risk exposure compared to teenage boys (65%). Worldwide, 55% of consumers reported experiencing moderate or severe pain due to online risks. Whilst Ireland fared better at 51%, the group most effected were teenage girls. 66% of teenage girls reported moderate to severe pain from online activity, compared to their global peers at 64%.

The Index also showed how the identity of online aggressors is changing. Although the level of unwanted contact from strangers decreased this year, there was a sharp increase in antisocial behaviour from within people’s social circles. Within Ireland, risks from family and friends increased noticeably to 24%, up 7 points on the previous year, which follows a global increase of 11 points.

The types of risks that stood out for Ireland compared to the global averages included firstly, ‘sexual risk’, with 68% receiving offensive or obscene content. Second was exposure to behavioural risk, as 66% of Irish people said they were called offensive names online, which was 15 points higher than the global average of 51%. Thirdly, following the emergence of fake news worldwide, 58% of Irish people reported encountering fake news online.

Negative online interactions can have lasting psychological, physical and emotional pain, and this year saw an increase of consequences from online interactions. As a direct result of online risks, 44% of Irish people said they became less trusting of other people online, and 34% became less trusting of people offline 32%. Other physical symptoms also increased including stress (32%), and sleep deprivation (30%).

Safe programming

Virgin Media announced a partnership with the National Parents Council Primary to deliver a countrywide Internet safety programme as requested from individual parent associations, school principals and boards of management. More than 300 sessions have taken place attended by some 5,000 people with more planned for the year ahead.

As part of the initiative, security firm F-Secure is offering its Online Armour tool to Virgin customers devices such as tablets, smartphones and computers within the home. It also features parental controls to restrict access to websites that contain age inappropriate content.

Virgin Media is the only telco to sign a memorandum of understanding with An Garda Siochana to restrict access to domains or URLs containing child sexual abuse material.

Clearing the eir on cyberbullying

Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone joined eir and An Garda Siochana to launch a campaign to help tackle the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. The crucial message shared today is ‘don’t ignore it, report it’.

Working with An Garda Síochána, children’s services, charities and campaigners, eir has produced an information leaflet and website to inform parents, guardians and young people on steps to take if they are concerned about cyber bullying or online harassment.

“Everyone has a role to play in ensuring the safety of our children online, this includes protection from bullying. I welcome the joint initiative of the Gardaí, eir and campaigners to increase public awareness with a campaign which will help inform children, young people and parents,” said Dr Zappone. “This partnership is providing practical information which will act as an easy accessible guide for parents. I encourage all who work with children to check out this important guide. Bullying in all its forms is unacceptable – whether on or offline, that’s the message we must get out loud and clear on this Safer Internet Day.”

Campaigner Jackie Fox lost her 21 year old daughter Nicole to suicide last year following a prolonged campaign of bullying and harassment. “Cyber bullying can have a devastating effect on those targeted, particularly more vulnerable people such as children and young adults,” said Fox. “The current legislation is outdated, written for a time before social media and messaging apps, and in need of urgent reform. Today is an important step in the right direction because we are highlighting the issue and the support available. We probably can’t end cyber bullying completely but we can reduce its frequency and its harmful effects through education, discussion and a zero-tolerance approach like eir’s. If we can stop one more family having to go through what we went through then this will be worth it.”

Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll of An Garda Síochána said: “An Garda Siochana is aware that cyber bullying can have a significant impact on people’s lives and is committed to tackling it in an impactful way. For this purpose, we welcome the opportunity to join with eir in implementing an initiative designed to prevent the occurrence of cyber bullying. We would encourage victims of cyber bullying to report the bullies and provide us with the evidence which will help to ensure other people will not become victims of this terrible behaviour.”

The Harassment, Harmful Communications & Related Offences Bill 2017 is currently making its way through the Oireachtas. The legislation – also known as ‘Coco’s Law’ in memory of Jackie’s daughter Nicole – will consolidate and reform the criminal law concerning harmful communications, including electronic communications.

What’s Your Story?

Trend Micro’s What’s Your Story competition will also be returning for 2019. This year’s driving question is “If you had one special power to make life online better, what would it be?”

Now in its eighth year, the annual global video competition is designed to give young people a platform to educate others and nurture safer, more responsible use of the Internet.

“We depend more and more on the internet because there are so many benefits to it, but life online is far from perfect,” said Avril Ronan, global programme manager of the Internet safety for kids & families programme for Trend Micro. “To address that, we want to give students an opportunity to think about the role they play online, what they see as the biggest challenges and how they can make the internet a better place for themselves and for all.”

Participants from Ireland will have until 30 April 2019 to submit their videos, and an additional two weeks past entry deadline to promote their submitted videos to friends, families, classmates and communities.

Prizes totalling €8,000 will be awarded for the winning entries from categories across individuals, schools, clubs and societies in May.

For more information on What’s Your Story? 2019, please visit: https://whatsyourstory.trendmicro.ie/

TechCentral Reporters

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