Community gardaí tackling rise of online bullying 

Community gardaí tackling rise of online bullying 

GARDAÍ are increasingly being called into schools in Cork city to deal with issues of online bullying.

Community Policing Officer Helen Courtney said she is often asked to visit primary and secondary schools to deal with the problem, but it can be hard to keep up with the pace of technology.

“Snapchat is a problem. If there is an argument playing out in the classroom, playground or wherever, and a screenshot is taken of a Snapchat, it could go all over the place,” said Garda Courtney, of the Mayfield District.

She said the best way to approach it is to ask students how they would feel if it was happening to them. “You can see, especially the younger classes — fifth and sixth class — when you ask that question, you see their shocked faces, because they never thought of that before,” she said.

Gurranabraher Community Policing Officer Eimear O’Connell said the abuse ranges from mean comments on Facebook to screenshots on Snapchat. “A lot of it dies down, but it is an issue,” she said.

A major problem with online abuse is that the legislation is behind the technological advancements.

“The internet works so fast, you can’t keep up with it, even for us. I have to educate myself sometimes before I go into a talk about the latest technology and the latest advice. You have to try your best to be on top of it all the time,” said Garda Courtney.

Avril Ronan, who works for online security firm Trend Micro and deals solely with the issue of online bullying, said the latest research shows that one in five children will be cyber bullied.

“One of the programs I work with is the ‘Internet safety for kids and families program’ which works to prevent the problem of cyber bullying.

“So if the statistics say one in five children are bullied online, that means four out of five children are bystanders.

“These children are afraid to speak up because they are afraid of being targeted themselves so the issue often doesn’t get reported.

Ms Ronan said the more we work on prevention, the more it is preventable down the line.

“We need to teach these children that there is safety in numbers, so if you are not comfortable talking to someone alone, go in a group.” Ms Ronan also said there were a number of confidential services available to people such as the Garda Confidential Line, ISPCC, Childline and the Samaritans.

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