Thursday 27 November 2014

Facebook and Twitter can't stop children setting up secret accounts

Published 02/09/2014 | 02:30

Larkin Community College students Morgan Rafferty (16) and  Calvin McDonnell (13) who both spoke at  the  conference yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Larkin Community College students Morgan Rafferty (16) and Calvin McDonnell (13) who both spoke at the conference yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath

FACEBOOK and Twitter have admitted they cannot prevent young children from setting up secret accounts that can be used for cyberbullying.

The minimum age for activating most social media accounts is 13 - but it has now emerged this is almost impossible to police.

Facebook executive Simon Milner was addressing a major cyberbullying conference in Dublin Castle.

He said action is taken if illegal use of the site by minors is reported, but this can be very difficult to monitor.

"We know we don't always get it right, but we have established what are know as Insafe Hotlines around Europe to help," he said.

"This is not particularly well known. We operate zero tolerance as re gards bullying and harassment," he added.

"We've been working with teaching bodies for more than a year on these hotlines in a bid to deal with cyberbullying, and improve access for school management and staff,'' said Mr Milner, who is Facebook's organisational director of policy for the UK, Middle East and Africa.

This approach also takes account of cyberbullying suicidal threats and the use of inappropriate photographs.

However, it emerged the site does not have a mechanism for school principals to directly access Facebook management in cases where suicide could be a risk.

Mr Milner said most examples of bullying were linked to the use of photographs.

He also said that if issues cannot be resolved between the parties involved, law enforcement agencies were contacted.

"We are trying to make Facebook as simple as possible - and easy to control,'' he said.

He pointed out that there were tools on the site to remove threatening and violent content.

"We advise parents and educators to keep calm when dealing with bullying."

Patricia Cartes, head of Global Safety Outreach Public Policy at Twitter, also admitted that the company does not know who is under 13.

"We haven't found a silver bullet in the online industry to meaningfully verify age," she said.

Both speakers were addressing a national conference on the theme 'Understanding and Managing Cyberbullying' in Dublin Castle, organised by Bully4U and the Anti-Bullying Centre at Dublin City University.

Geoffrey Shannon, the special rapporteur on Child Protection, said it was vital the law kept pace with technology. Current legislation dates back to 1997.

Clive Byrne of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, called for more funding to train teachers in this area and improved school guidelines for parents.

Irish Independent

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