Warning that distressed teens posting 'self-harm' messages online
Teenage girls are posting vile messages about themselves on social media sites as a form of self-harm, a safety advocate has warned.
Annie Mullins, director of trust and safety with Ask.fm Europe, said a new trend emerging within the more usual form of cyber-bullying was young girls using sites to abuse themselves.
The qualified child protection officer described the job with the controversial website, which was linked to a number of teen suicides both here and abroad, as "quite a challenge".
She told the Impact education conference in Galway that she had spoken to families of children victimised and targeted in online bullying.
Ms Mullins said Ask.fm began as a small start-up without a responsible approach, but the company was now invested in tackling bullying, filtering and moderating. She told of a recent case dealt with in Galway that involved a boy harassing a girl on the site.
She said he was acting out aggressively online as he dealt with issues in his own life.
Another growing online threat to children was extremism, she warned.Ms Mullins said the targeting of young people by terror group Isil through social media was "highly sophisticated".
Ms Mullins accepted that Ask.fm continued to have issues around anonymity.
"If you asked me 10 years ago if we would ever put anonymity as a feature for young people I would have said 'Don't be crazy' and I think I still feel that, but anonymity is important.
"People's first reaction is just close down this area and it's the constant cry around Ask.fm.
"But in a world that is quite full of conflict at the moment and certain regimes, anonymity is quite important from a freedom-of-speech perspective," she said.
She said many children trusted the anonymity to ask questions they were not yet able to ask in their daily lives, allowing them level of "self expression and exploration".
She told delegates the mobile penetration in Ireland was 129pc, with smart phone penetration ranging around 60pc.