'These site owners must take full responsibility'
Cabinet member for opportunities for young people MITCH THEAKER will be writing to Swansea schools following the deaths of school pupils who have been alleged victims of cyber-bullying. He wants people to join the fight to stamp it out.
A FEW days ago, I woke up to hear the incredibly sad news that yet another teenager had committed suicide because of some people's horrific use of social media.
It is believed Daniel Perry, aged 17 from Fife, was being blackmailed online and it has been alleged he had previously been urged to kill himself by anonymous cyber bullies on a website called Ask.fm.
His death followed that of Hannah Smith from Leicestershire, who had also used the site.
I can imagine that the majority reading this will have never heard of Ask.fm, but speak to any Swansea teenager and I'm sure they'll be able to tell you all about it. The website allows people to send anonymous questions or comments to each other. Fifty per cent of members are under 18 and they can boost the amount of questions they are asked by sharing their profiles on Facebook and Instagram.
Some of the questions are perfectly innocent, like "What are your favourite lessons in school?", but it doesn't take very long at all to find some truly cruel sentiments.
Messages range from publicly insulting young people's appearance by calling them ugly or fat, to some messages that tell young people to go and kill themselves or that nobody would care if they died. There's no doubt in my mind that children and young people in Swansea have had exactly the same kind of messages sent to them.
Frankly I believe some social media sites are gambling with the safety and wellbeing of our children and young people.
We're in the early days of social media and I believe what we are seeing now is a wave of keyboard warriors and cyber bullies abusing new opportunities online. Internet trolls absolutely have to be challenged, but site owners have a duty to protect their users and take full responsibility for the sites they have created.
We've seen Stella Creasy, the MP for Walthamstow, come up against a tirade of sickening abuse, with people making comments about rape. It wouldn't take much to delete the account to not be subject to such vulgarity, but I am grateful she hasn't.
Stella has decided to challenge and pursue those who think that this kind of vile behaviour is acceptable. In her campaign to #reclaimtwitter she has been urging the vast majority of us good and decent Tweeters and Facebookers to challenge behaviours that cannot be allowed to become acceptable. I think that in Swansea we need to do exactly the same. The council has done quite a bit of work with Show Racism the Red Card and Stonewall Cymru to tackle bullying, but we need to do more.
As cabinet member I will be writing to all of our schools in Swansea warning them specifically about Ask.fm following these allegations and asking them to speak to their pupils about being safe online. I'll also be looking into our anti-bullying policies and ensuring they are fully up to date with cyber bullying. But to be honest there's only so much the council can do. It's up to every single person in Swansea who cares about this to take a stand.
So what can we actually do about it? Firstly, I would urge parents to talk to their children about this site and ask them if they've had any problems with it. Find out from them if they use it or any other forms of social media and talk to them about bullying and online bullying. Let them know that if they ever have any problems, no matter how terrible and serious they seem, that there are always people they can talk to. Secondly, I think people need to demand that the Government really steps up its game on cyber bullying. In fact I'd say that under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child we have a duty to do so. We need a clear strategy that outlines what we'll do for online education, how we'll support those who are being bullied and how we'll monitor websites to ensure they are doing their part. There is a petition to the UK Government calling for this.
I don't believe for a second that the internet is a bad thing, but I do think that we have one hell of a task ahead of us to really reclaim our social media, and that is a fight well worth having.
The only way it will change is if we demand it.
And if you have any ideas as to what we can do to fight this, please get in touch with me.
The Government petition can be found at http://epetitions. direct.gov.uk/petitions/48886
Ask.fm is expected to release the findings of inquiry today following Hannah's death.