IRELAND'S traditional love of "slagging" may be contributing to internet banter which can escalate to cyber-bullying.
A new study has revealed that cyber-bullying often proves dangerous because it can involve a victim's friends and offers little escape because of mobile phone and social media access.
The study is set to prompt a radical rethink of anti-bullying measures by schools, sports and government agencies.
The study also found that access to social media sites -- including Ask.fm -- is at a vastly younger age in Ireland than first understood.
Staff at one Dublin primary school was shocked to discover that 100 students, all aged under 13, had Facebook accounts.
The study found that so-called cyber-banter on internet chat rooms can easily escalate to bullying.
Conducted among Dublin teenagers, the study forms one of the central issues discussed at the Psychological Society of Ireland's 42nd annual conference.
It has been released amid national concern over the scale of cyber bullying following the high-profile cyber-bullying related deaths of Erin Gallagher (13) in Donegal and Ciara Pugsley (15) in Leitrim over the past three months and a number of earlier incidents in Ireland and abroad.
Now, several researchers have warned that Ireland needs to radically rethink its anti-bullying and teen support mechanisms to respond to the threat posed by cyber-bullies.
Researchers Suzanne Guerin, Moya Farrell, Dannielle Farrell and Conor McGuckin found that:
• Cyber-bullying is the easiest form of bullying.
• Bullying often involves former friends of the victim.
• Victims can be targeted initially because of often trivial school disputes or disagreements.
• Victims are often reluctant to inform a parent or teacher because the bully is a former friend.
• Those who engage in cyber-bullying often regard it as "funny" and not dangerous.
However, the impact of cyber-bullying has been radically increased by the emergence of the social media and sites such as Ask.fm which offer bullies the shield of anonymity.
The new study has shown that cyber-bullying is more common among teenage girls than boys.
Cork Institute of Technology researcher Shane Kearney also found that just one-in-six Irish students had their phone checked by their parents for signs of cyber-bullying and almost one-in-10 students had been bullied online or by text.
Home and school must join to beat the bully: Analysis --P29