Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications
Social Media: Discussion (Resumed) with National Anti-Bullying Coalition
The purpose of this morning's session is to hear the views of the National Anti-Bullying Coalition on abuse on social media, including challenges posed by cyberbullying and online harassment. Social media is changing the way many of our citizens interact with one another and we feel it is important that the committee hears about the various facets of this topic, particularly in light of the disquiet expressed in some quarters that there are no curbs on irresponsible use of these channels. The committee has already heard the views of the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, the Office of Internet Safety and the primary social media networks, namely, Facebook and Twitter. We will also hear from YouTube and Mr. T. J. McIntyre of Digital Rights Ireland and take submissions in writing via social media channels from interested groups or individuals. At the end of this process we propose to publish a report and make recommendations to the Houses.
On behalf of the committee I welcome Mr. Seán Fallon, Mr. Colin Larkin and Mr. Paul C. Dwyer of the National Anti-Bullying Coalition. I now wish to draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to particular matters and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given.
They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make any charges against a person, persons, or entity, by name or in such a way as to make him, her, or it, identifiable. I advise that any submission or opening statement submitted to the committee will be published on the committee's website after the meeting.
I remind Members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite Mr. Seán Fallon to make his opening statement and he has ten minutes in which to do so.
Mr. Seán Fallon:
I am deputising for Ms Monica Monaghan, president of the National Anti-Bullying Coalition. With my two colleagues we will present a scenario. I wish to address cyberbullying as part of a wider issue which is bullying in general. Cyberbullying is one more means of doing what children have been doing to each other for generations when groups gather together. Some who are more dominant tend to pick on those who are more timid and, for whatever reason, they can find a way of doing it.
I will begin with a PowerPoint presentation and take as a guideline, not a real definition, key factors in bullying, which include cyberbullying. I am coming from the perspective that all bullying is deliberate, hurtful behaviour that is repeated over time either in act or in impact; in other words, one event which has an ongoing negative impact on a child day after day. For example, if something is put on line and not taken down, each day it is left there, even though there is no act happening, the impact is still there. Cyberbullying is one particular form of bullying behaviour targeting someone who is seen as vulnerable. Research shows that most of those who cyberbully have already been bullying the person in the school yard, the classroom or wherever. A year and a half ago when the Anti-Bullying Centre in Trinity College hosted an international conference the one aspect that stood out in my mind from all the research presented that day on cyberbullying was that there is a very close link between the person cyberbullying and the person who has already been bullying that child in the school yard. The mystique as to how it might be somebody totally different does not necessarily apply. The reason people cyberbully is not related to the technology but the mindset they have that they want to bully a particular person. The view of the National Anti-Bullying Coalition is that if one wants to deal with cyberbullying on a stand-alone basis, one is not likely to be successful. My colleagues, who have the technical expertise, will tell the committee about things that can certainly help.
Traditional strategies to deal with bullying in general have been unsuccessful, as indicated by the figures on the screen. From 2008, Trinity College research on secondary schools showed that approximately 30% of students had been bullied during the previous couple of months. Research from UNICEF in 2012 showed that 55% of secondary school students have been bullied. A European Study, reported in the Irish Examiner, in 2012 showed that 12% of ten-year old children are bullied at least weekly, before they go to secondary school. Whatever has been happening in regard to bullying in general or cyberbullying, in particular, or both, has not been successful if that number of children are still affected by bullying.
There are some proactive approaches that did not work in the past. It is the law since the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 that every school in Ireland must have an anti-bullying policy. Unfortunately, there is no legal obligation on them to implement it. Schools are allowed draw up their own anti-bullying policy with, perhaps, certain guidelines. That has not made a difference given that so many people are being bullied. Depending on SPHE and CSPE classes to raise awareness about bullying has not worked given the percentage of people who have been bullied. Three events in SPHE per year on bullying will not suffice. One has only to ask any advertiser if three little events per year would convince people to buy their product. There is not chance. It needs a more sustained ongoing approach to awareness raising if that is part of what we are talking about. Also, it is not part of the brief of SPHE and CSPE to deal with bullying behaviour when it arises; its only brief is to raise awareness about it. Some children may be more aware than others. Holding an anti-bullying week, which schools do, is very valuable and highlights the issue. When we were all teenagers, a week later that was all forgotten and we were thinking about what we would do the next weekend. Teenagers have forgotten what happened last week. An anti-bullying week is brilliant at the time but it is clear from the percentages that on its own, it is not enough.
Reactive approaches that have not worked in the past include expecting the bullied child to "shape up" and not let those comments bother them. Even if there was a chance that it might work, people who get involved in bullying behaviour seldom act alone. They usually have somebody else because they are showing off to the somebody else. Whether it is traditional bullying or cyberbullying two people are huddled around a mobile telephone sending the text message showing off to somebody else while the person on the receiving end is outnumbered. How can one expect him or her to "shape up" and deal with the issue at 12 years of age? Ignoring the bullying in the hope it would stop is the reaction by many schools but it does not work. Punishing or threatening to punish the person who bullies has not worked well either. That leads to bullying being hidden and to the "no ratting" culture where a child will not let on that the other child is doing something wrong and will not get that child in trouble with a teacher. Why is that "no ratting" culture there? It is there because punishment is part of the treatment that schools use in relation to bullying. I know from my own experience when the punishment is taken away and something else is put in, the "no ratting" culture disappears completely and the students will tell one what is going on. All that is needed then is to find a way to deal with it. Therefore, punishing or threatening to punish does not work. The awareness raising events and the proactive SPHE events have been too little and dealing with it has been too late. It is an example of being too little and too late, depending on which line one takes.
The 1993 guidelines, which will be replaced thanks to the efforts of the working group and the Minister, contain two important and useful aims: to increase the awareness of bullying behaviour, such as the damage it does and the difficulties that arise as a result, and to assist schools in devising procedures to prevent and deal with it. Both of those most happen in the school or the environment. How can that be done? An ongoing awareness raising programme must be set up in schools, not just one anti-bullying week, in order that the students are constantly brought face to face with the fact that bullying is a no-no, it is hurtful and damaging. Students must be brought to a cultural position where they reject the bullying themselves.
There is a programme that delivers that. It made a presentation to the working group, and the committee is probably aware of that. Therefore, there is an effective programme for dealing with this bullying in general.
To stop cyberbullying and bullying in general, one needs to look at the attitude of the person doing it. There are many types of bullying some of which the committee will be familiar with. In the action plan by the Minister, he has particularly targeted homophobia because it is so insidious and damaging to teenagers. As they have not yet become adults, it is very tricky. The slide lists ways, including cyberbullying, in which one can choose to bully someone. One can set up structures to deal with each and all of those. My colleagues will present some good insights on cyberbullying today.
If, hypothetically, one were to prevent cyberbullying forever, unfortunately, another way to bully the child will be found which will not be a cyber way. If the committee is interested in making children safe in schools and in their environment, it needs to look at cyberbullying and also at other forms of bullying so that if it manages to be successful on cyberbullying, there is not a shift to other forms of bullying. There is a way of doing that and it is already available. I can talk to anybody later about that.
There is another point about schools which really has a significant impact. If, for example, the adults in schools display a bullying attitude in their dealings, either with the children or with each other, if the school principal is bullying some of the younger teachers, if I, as a teacher - I was one for more than 30 years - behave in a bullying manner towards some of my students, or if I target a student who is slow at mathematics and make joking sarcastic remarks about that, I give permission to the other students to do the same. A teacher needs to be careful not to do that. A teacher needs training in how not to do that. So far, there is no training in how teachers deal with students in a way that is respectful. Some teachers do it instinctively; some, let us say, may not. It is important how one deals with others in schools - how teachers deal with students and how teachers deal with each other. Research shows that if the teachers are modelling bullying behaviour, it will be picked up by the students and they will do likewise. The teacher might do it with a loud voice or a sarcastic comment whereas the child might decide to go and do some texting or Facebook bullying to which my colleagues will refer.
Mr. Fallon states his colleagues will refer to it but we told him at the outset that he had ten minutes. He is only eating into their time, if he wants to give them a minute or two. That is all we have. He is over his time already.
Mr. Seán Fallon:
I am sorry. I will finish up with the next slide. That slide is about costs. Bullying costs the country at least €30 million a year. On the last slide, which my colleagues will take up, cyberbullying is a social problem. The technological side of it, on which I am not expert, is an important element. If one can speed up the response to bullying and cyberbullying using technological means, one will make a significant difference. The longer cyberbullying is left without being dealt with, the more dangerous it is for the person on the receiving end. I am sorry for going on so long and thank the committee.
Mr. Paul C. Dwyer:
On my background, I am a cyber-threat adviser and I work with the military, law enforcement, etc. The reason I am here today is that this topic is more dangerous and more important than any other type of cyber-criminal work I do, such as on cyber-terrorism. I have come along here to represent an organisation called the International Cyber Threat Task Force, ICTTF, which works on making the Internet a safer place. I am here with my colleagues from the National Anti-Bullying Coalition, NABC.
We need to address this area in a holistic way. We should learn from road safety, and the three Es - education, enforcement and engineering. We need to tackle those three areas. My colleague spoke about the education side of the matter. It is important that each different person, from a collective responsibility point of view, must be educated on what is their responsibility within those areas.
On enforcement, the laws and treaties are not in place to be able facilitate a safe environment for children to socialise, operate and educate themselves online. I refer to such matters as the European Convention on Cybercrime. We need to have these treaties in place so that we can get co-operation from other sovereign states to deal with such issues. This is not an Irish problem. This is a global problem. Fixing it in our own back garden will not fix the problem. We need to deal with that area.
On engineering, there are certain steps that can be taken that do not affect people's privacy because one of the things that will get people's backs up is technology solutions that may invade their privacy, I refer to such matters as IP addresses. We must acknowledge that these massive companies involved in making fortunes out of the Internet have the technology in place to identify users, not only by IP addresses or such numbers but by profiling the devices they are on and their behaviour online. In such cases, one can ban or block users from the Internet on the basis of their behaviour but not from the context of what they are saying or doing online. That would fall nicely into place and complement freedom of expression, freedom of information and such matters that seem to be arguments against being able to block or control what is being said or done online.
Mr. Colin Larkin:
I thank the committee for taking the time to let us present. Here is a little about my own background. I work in fraud prevention and assisting banks on that area. I have spent a great deal of time as a senior consultant in the telecommunications area.
I want to briefly touch on the definition of telecommunications. There is a problem with the slides but the committee has a copy of the slides to hand.
Mr. Colin Larkin:
I thank the Chairman. The simplest definition of telecommunications is the transmission of words, sounds or images electronically. Regardless of whatever laws are put in place, we need to have some sort of infrastructure that allows organisations to build a case of some sort, whether defamation or whatever. Typically, the telecommunications infrastructure for doing this is to use something like lawful intercept legislation. This is what enables criminal and civil cases. It is very clear and simple. All stakeholders, whether the Garda, the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Judiciary, understand the part they play. It forces equipment vendors and telecommunications operators to put lawful intercept infrastructure in place within their networks.
However, telephony is changing beyond anything of which we know today. The existing operators in Ireland are becoming bit carriers. They only carry ones and zeros. The telecommunications systems the members all use to communicate with their constituents are the new telecommunications networks. We need to start thinking beyond the traditional operators we all know that have been here in Ireland for many decades and looking towards these new providers which just see themselves as being a website or application of some sort.
Slide No. 4, for example, shows the new device that will be in the shops at Christmas. It does not look anything like a phone, but that is what we have to deal with. One of the challenges the members will be dealing with is trying to legislate for devices such as this. More challenging still is trying to legislate for devices which persons have not yet thought of and that are just coming out of the skunk works of these large organisations that are supplying these really innovative interesting devices.
Certainly, NABC has a much better understanding of cyberbullying than I do. I come from a technical point of view. Cyberbullying is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is silent and it is anonymous. There is no escape. The traditional sanctuaries of a person's home or bedroom no longer exist. People can reach into them any time of the day or night. Victims' friends and families are largely powerless to help in this. They do not understand it. They do not know how to handle it. There is a lack of education as to what is this technology, what it can do and whatever else. It does not have to be like that.
As Mr. Dwyer stated, the social networks have all the information they need to be able to address this. They know everything about one. They know what one had for breakfast, where one lives, one's friends and family, one's e-mail address, one's phone numbers and one's location. All of the information we need to protect victims exists in the networks today. We just need to access it. It seems a link is being made between free and open sharing of information and being anonymous, but the two do not necessarily come together. One does not have to be anonymous to be able to share information freely. Websites store logins and details.
The legislation and treaties which Mr. Dwyer mentioned are important. I would like the committee to consider examining existing legislation such as that on lawful intercept. Everyone knows what it is all about and it would be easy to educate people. It should be used to extract the information needed from the social networks. They are telecommunications providers although they may not meet the legal definition. Perhaps the Attorney General or Director of Public Prosecutions simply needs to issue guidelines to the local superintendents to give directions to gardaí on what people need to do to address this.
It should be made easy for people to report instances of bullying. There is no big deal to putting an abuse or report button beside a messaging function on a social network application. It would remove the silence and empower victims and give them an escape. It would use the existing lawful intercept infrastructure I spoke about earlier. It could be designed so that if one pushed such a button, a message could pop up on the bully's screen stating he or she had been reported to the Garda. It could gather all of the information needed about the bullying, including photographs, messages and words, and dump it in a secure database under the control of the Garda. All of the information would then be in one place which would make it very easy for someone to create a simple access request for a civil or criminal case. More importantly, it would allow teachers, friends and families to go quietly to the Garda if they perceive something is not quite right to ask them to have a look to see whether something could be done so the matter could be dealt with quietly.
We are trying to get an overall view on cyberbullying and prepare a report to ensure action is taken at other levels. I congratulate the work being done by the witnesses and the amount of time and effort they put into it. Where are the flaws in the laws and treaties? Bullying has existed since Adam was a boy and certain standards and positions have been put in place. Many of the contributors who came before the committee last week stated it is an international issue with cross-jurisdictional aspects for which legislation does not exist. Even in his opening statement the Minister stated there may be a gap in the law. If the witnesses were asked to deal with this new phenomenon of cyberbullying which, as Mr. Larkin stated, goes straight into homes and bedrooms day and night, what laws and treaties would they say were necessary at international and national level?
Mr. Paul C. Dwyer:
In Ireland we have the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act and the Criminal Damage Act. Legislation dates back to posts and telegraphs and has not kept up with the technology now in place. It is multijurisdictional, so we need to consider the European Convention on Cybercrime, which creates offences with regard to copyright infringement and the illicit material of children, and creates a level playing field between countries. The UK, the United States, Australia and Japan have all signed and ratified it. We signed it more than ten years ago but we still have not ratified it. Without such legislation we do not even have a foundation to start working in the area.
Cyberbullying is one issue but these matters do not work in silos. Protecting children is also about protecting them from cyber-predators who also frequent these sites. An interesting aspect of the legislation is that it holds directors personally accountable and liable if they have not done everything they should and could have done to prevent a crime being orchestrated through their facilities. Let us think about this in the context of the providers we are discussing. It would focus their attention more than eye-watering fines or bad press if they were personally accountable for not preventing these incidents from happening, not that they committed themselves but that they did not prevent them from happening. One can almost draw a Venn diagram of cyber-predators. We even see the online grooming of autistic children by cyber-criminals who want to use their very special abilities and brains for hacking. The types of websites mentioned, which are not the big ones but which are only a stone's throw from Ireland in countries such as Latvia, feed predators and bullies - the people we refer to as cyber-scum - and they should be made accountable in law because they do not take down material or co-operate in any way, shape or form. It is wrong to keep pointing at the big guys all the time.
Mr. Paul C. Dwyer:
The deficiency stems from responsibility. The legislation should appoint somebody to be responsible 24-seven as a point of contact for the country of Ireland who can co-operate with others to deal with these incidents. Such a person or entity would then have a stick with which to beat the providers to ensure they played along and played fair with everybody else. We need this level of co-operation in a treaty to empower this. Otherwise people will decide their back garden is fine and they are okay, and we will not deal with the holistic problem. We need to be part of a global solution instead of having something confined and narrow.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. I see a big risk in what we are trying to do. If we go too far in the direction of legislation, we would make social media worthless. If we go too far towards ensuring a user ID is always made available, we will inhibit people giving their opinions on social media. The figures are stark and show 55% of secondary school students have been bullied. I take it not all of this is cyberbullying. The problem is that children can walk from the schoolyard but they cannot walk from social media because it is in their pocket all the time.
I am not aware of any international examples of countries which have solved this problem. I would love if somebody could point to a jurisdiction which may not have solved it but is on the way to doing so, where international aspects may need to click into place but the jurisdiction is on the road towards solving the problem in a way that, without inhibiting people's liberty and freedom, protects children and vulnerable adults.
They are not as well equipped to deal with cyberbullying as others may be. Are there any such international examples concerning some nations that may be further on than others in addressing this issue?
Mr. Paul C. Dwyer:
There are some countries that have a much more mature culture and approach to this matter. There are different levels and points of pain for younger or older children and some for adults. In the United States, there are 20,000 cyber-related attempted suicides every year. We may ask how they are learning from this, but they are at the cutting edge involving the change in culture within schools and organisations. We can see that from statistics coming from Facebook about online behaviour.
In Italy, for example, directors of the major search engines are being taken away in handcuffs because they have not prevented bullying on their search engines and websites. That focuses the minds of everybody involved in using and dealing with this enterprise commercially. The culture has a massive knock-on effect in terms of dealing with that because the directors are told that they will end up in jail if they do not take responsibility for dealing with these issues. It is no longer just a case of words on paper.
The solution to this lies in overall responsibility of the people who are commercially making money from this. We have to take into context the fact that there are sites making a living from facilitating cyberbullying. Some of these are in our European neighbours, but not within our own jurisdiction. Why should they be allowed to broadcast, operate and make money from our citizens, including children, by preying on trolls and Internet cyber predators? Those are the ones we need to go after initially.
However, there is no silver bullet, so a collective effort is required between states to deal with it. Perhaps that would follow through within the culture of parenting. Parents could ask their children about the websites they are using - are they hosted in Latvia, Ireland, Italy or the United States? In effect, that would give adults enough knowledge to empower them to ask children what playground they are playing in. Those located in this jurisdiction may be quite safe if they are monitored, but other sites are ones to be afraid of. We have to keep it in that context but, unfortunately, there is no silver bullet.
Mr. Colin Larkin:
There is one other issue which is relevant. This is not necessarily a new problem. We have all seen abusive telephone calls and text messages over the years. We can look at expanding this into a global issue of cyberbullying but we need to look back in history to the existing defamation laws. We can help people by providing the infrastructure for them to prepare civil or criminal cases.
Yesterday's Limerick Leader contained a discussion about a school in Limerick. It concerned the challenge the principal had in trying to get a particular post removed. All the information that such a school principal needs to be able to take a civil case, exists within that social network. Today, however, there is no infrastructure that allows that principal to make a complaint to the local Garda Síochána, so they cannot use something equivalent to a lawful intercept which is used on a fixed or mobile telephone network to get the information they need to take a criminal case. If they could do so, they would hold that organisation to account but they do not have the ability to create that case today. All the information exists within the social network, however. We should look back at how we fixed this problem before in terms of mobile telephones and fixed networks concerning text messaging.
I welcome the three representatives from the National Anti-Bullying Coalition. I wish to ask Mr. Larkin a few questions. He referred to the Limerick school, which is a fairly good example. What happened there was that the school principal suspended some students for their behaviour, which seems like a common sense way of dealing with a particular case. Mr. Larkin mentioned the need for the DPP to issue guidelines to Garda stations so that somebody with a complaint about cyberbullying can go to them. Has that been done in any other countries? Are there any other models we can copy in that respect?
Mr. Dwyer referred to technological solutions to cyberbullying. We had hearings here where we asked similar questions of other people. Is it possible for an ordinary citizen to track or trace the source of an offensive or bullying tweet, which appears to be anonymous? Is that technology available to the ordinary citizen?
Mr. Dwyer referred to those who indulge in this kind of behaviour on the Internet as cyberscum. Perhaps he could elaborate on that.
Mr. Colin Larkin:
I am not aware of any other jurisdictions where the DPP or its equivalent has issued guidelines. I am not a lawyer, I am a technologist. I am looking at it purely from a very basic infrastructure as to what is available and what can be done.
The Deputy mentioned tracking twitter messages, but everything is there. The GPS location of every person who tweets messages is physically recorded. So much information about the device, including its serial number, is all recorded by the social network. They know everything about it. That is why I am suggesting that we should really look at the likes of a lawful intercept, or something similar. As a quick fix, we should allow access to that information because they have everything stored. That is a first step in the right direction to allow someone to have recourse to the courts to build a case.
Mr. Paul C. Dwyer:
I am happy to add to that. As Mr. Larkin says, in theory one can trace back if somebody has tweeted something. The Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act is pretty good legislation to use if somebody is cyberstalking or hassling another person. I could use that to try to get a prosecution, or the Garda could use it to take a case. The problem is that subjectivity comes into it. When someone goes to the Garda Síochána and says that somebody has put up a voting poll for voting their child the tallest or smallest in the class, is that a crime or an opinion? It is subjective because the Garda does not know where to turn next. Does it bring a case to the DPP? There is a vacuum there and we need to fill it by giving some sort of guidance to gardaí on when it is a crime or an opinion. We must remember that law enforcement comes back to making a complaint which is then investigated to see if a crime has been committed. It follows that path.
One can use the law to deal with that but it is very expensive for organisations to turn that material around. The majority of fraud departments in telecommunications providers are now working on providing lawful interception requests for the Garda because it does not have the resources at its disposal. What crime is not cyber-related these days? What crime does not involve a mobile telephone or the Internet? Every crime has a cyber element but the Garda is completely under-resourced to deal with that issue at the moment. That is a separate area, however.
The term cyberscum covers cyberstalkers. We get a lot of issues around ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends whose material is being put up online, thus making other adults' lives a misery. We see criminal gangs who are sexually outing other people to blackmail them into providing information to help them facilitate a crime.
We have a huge element of bullying with cyber predators shoulder to shoulder in the same environment. If one finds cyber bullies, one will also find cyber predators by which I mean paedophiles. They are people who exchange indecent imagery of children within those network groups. They are working with vulnerable children. They will find a vulnerable child and groom them, which is a seduction technique. They may say, "I see you are being bullied, so I will be your friend online". Before one knows it, they are getting images off that child. That is the nasty bit, but it is how it works. That is the murky, sinister world of cyber scum.
Mr. Paul C. Dwyer:
Members of the Garda Síochána can obviously speak for themselves. However, they can go to a mobile telephone or Internet provider and seek records to tell them what has happened.
Then it is up to a civilian and that is where the matter gets murky. Should civilians take the information? Are there privacy issues? Should a mechanism be put in place?
With regard to cyber-scum in Ireland, Interpol has a database of known and categorised child pornography. In the mid-1990s it contained only 4,000 images but now it has over 1 million images. In this jurisdiction it can be downloaded and one will not be blocked from downloading it. If one travels to Northern Ireland or the UK then one cannot download it because it will be blocked and is inaccessible. In this jurisdiction the downloading of copyright music is banned but one cannot be blocked or stopped from downloading child pornography that is known and has been categorised as such by Interpol. That makes me question how we protect our children online.
Last week the committee held a discussion on social media and the social media companies who operate in Ireland attended. We had a frank and open discussion with them and they showed a willingness to co-operate in every way possible. What does the delegation think of the take-down and blocking policies of the social media companies and the way that they operate here? I just want an opinion.
Mr. Paul C. Dwyer:
I am happy to comply. The major social network provider in Ireland receives roughly 100,000 requests per day from around the world in any 24-hour period and 90 people are employed to deal with them. One does not have to be a maths genius to realise that 90 people cannot deal with over 1,000 each per day.
Mr. Paul C. Dwyer:
I do not think that they are resourcing the measure adequately. They must provide specialist resources to specialist groups. For example, teachers could have a hotline to the social media companies in order to state their evaluation of a situation. Perhaps they could provide specific training to teachers who can access a hotline. Teachers could ask the companies to accept their word that bullying is occurring and must be stopped.
Cyberbullying is a viral epidemic. Members may think that we have a problem now but in two years time it will be a worse epidemic in schools with the arrival of iPads, smartphones and all of the other tech equipment. Schools are only worried whether the devices will get damaged and not that children will bring in a weapon to school than can take pictures of kids in showers, share the images within seconds and is propagated around the world. We need to pay more than lip service to the problem and put resources and specialist courses in place. All of the facilities exist from a technology and education point of view and schools should not be afraid to build a fence around the hazard. Schools should say that there is a hazard but children and adults can still enjoy the benefits of the Internet while making it safer by following certain procedures and adopt a responsible method for reporting instances. My view is that cyberbullying cases should not end up on the desk of a garda all of the time. Until it is a full crime, if that is the right phrase to use, then schools should try to deal with instances themselves from a certain internal governance point of view within the industry. If an offence is committed and laws are broken then a Garda unit should deal with it.
Mr. Colin Larkin:
I want to touch on the gathering of information from telecoms networks because it is my expert area and I have worked in the sector for many years. Telecoms networks are very diverse systems and information is scattered all over the place. The social networks can make it quite easy to gather information. There is a possibility of having an abuse button on a webpage that catches the information and dumps it in a central database with a case ID of some sort. Once I have a case ID I can prove to the garda that I am the person who is referred to in a message and it is my account in the same way that I can make a complaint if I receive an abusive message on my mobile telephone. I can easily get that information made available to me by the press of a button. Such a provision would take the need to do so away from the Garda and Facebook. I could then go along to my local solicitor and build a case using a case ID. The process would be straightforward.
Mr. Paul C. Dwyer:
Yes, parents also need to be involved. Children must be informed that privacy was mentioned in the Constitution and the Human Rights Act and that we have a human right to privacy. Children must be informed that if they put up their photograph on O'Connell bridge then they cannot be surprised that people will comment. They need to understand that there are consequences when they post material online.
I have some brief questions for Mr. Fallon on his work on school programmes. I am aware that his work in schools has reached the wider community, not just the school community. Did he carry out baseline studies to examine the level of alleged cyberbullying in those schools and communities? Did he carry out a study after he worked with the schools and communities to see what impact it had on the level of cyberbullying and bullying in the school and schoolyard? Can he tell us a little bit about the matter?
Mr. Seán Fallon:
We did not study cyberbullying separately because we view it as being part of a wide range of bullying activities. I can speak about the school where I taught and can vouch that the amount of bullying was reduced. We monitored it each year and found a way to indicate the success of the campaign and whether cases had been resolved. Bullying still happened but we examined whether cases had been resolved even though it is very difficult to quantify in numbers. The system gathered statistics from the start of the programme that we operated in the school in which I taught. They indicated that either the situation was resolved fully to the satisfaction of everybody without a backlash or it was not. On that basis our success rate for the first number of years was better than 90% full resolution in all kinds of bullying as they arose. For the past three years since I have been out of the school, and in every single case without exception, there has been full resolution with no backlash for anybody and everybody lived happily ever after. We did not conduct a study on just cyberbullying so it is opportune that the committee is examining cyberbullying now.
All of the members are happy with this part of the meeting and we thank the three speakers for their informative presentation, particularly their questions and answers. The delegation has expressed a different view to what we heard last week and have helped us to understand the matter better. As the delegation will be aware, the committee must draft and prepare a report for Government and the presentation this morning has proved very helpful. I thank them for it.