Major Newry cyber bullying conference challenges legislators
A major Newry conference on the issue of internet bullying of children and young people has heard Northern Ireland’s Justice Ministry branded a ‘disgrace’ over its lack of a strategy to tackle the problem.
Sponsored and organised by SDLP Councillor Connaire McGreevy the event was the first in what is planned to be continuing campaign of information and support for pupils and professionals affected by cyber bullying.
Revealing that as a school pupil he also had been the victim of bullying Councillor McGreevy described the growing threat of on-line abuse as ‘an epidemic of cruelty and hatred’.
And he said that the increasingly sophisticated range of internet linked equipment made it even more likely that over the course of their educational life pupils would be added to the list of bullying victims.
The conference heard that the latest research from the NSPCC had found that 38 per cent of children had been affected by cyber bullying.
Councillor McGreevy said that parents had a critical role to play in helping combat the threat posed by the immoral use of modern technology.
And he told the conference that Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford had to learn from and respond positively to the experience of other jurisdictions in terms of confronting cyber bullying tactics.
McGreevy told Newry Times, “In Canada legislation is being introduced to make cyber bullying illegal. The Canadian Justice Minister will be able to authorise the seizure of computers and mobile telephones as well as forcing the removal of images and text from the internet.
“Our neighbours in the Republic have enhanced legislation to tackle cyber bullying. A year ago England and Wales also tightened up a number of loopholes surrounding internet abuse.
“But in Northern Ireland there appears to be practically no legislative appetite to face down the posters of hate messages.”
The conference heard calls for the full force of the law has to be used in the battle against the bullies.
Key note speaker Dr Emma Short echoed McGreevy’s sentiments. She commented, “There was a great welcome in Newry yesterday at an event that brought together an audience of parents, teenagers and many other people who work with children.
“It is always wonderful to see so many who have a genuine interest in the future of children and teenagers as well as their immediate safety. Councillor Connaire McGreevy created an occasion for the Newry community in which experts in law, social networks and psychology spoke about the opportunities and risks our young people face in cyberspace.
“It was an honour to be invited into this community and be made so comfortable as a guest in the town. I am certain that we will continue to learn from each other.”
Also at the event was Northern Ireland’s leading media lawyer, Paul McDonnell. “The progressive vision of Connaire McGreevy in organising the Growing Up in a Digital World conference provided delegates with valuable insight into the growing scourge of cyberbullying.
“I highlighted some of the legal implications of Cyberbullying and how the law can be utilised both to deter the perpetrators and come to the aid of the victims. All of the panelists agreed that our current legislation does not adequately meet the challenges posed by social media and in particular Cyberbullying.
McDonnell added, “This conference has provided an excellent platform from which to campaign for law reform in this area, following the example of Canada and the Welsh Assembly.”
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