Wednesday 21 November 2018

DCU says €330k Facebook sponsorship deal does not compromise independence of its research

Dublin City University (DCU) says a €330,000 sponsorship deal with Facebook for an online safety training programme for parents and teachers does not compromise the independence of its research work. (Ben Margot/AP)
Dublin City University (DCU) says a €330,000 sponsorship deal with Facebook for an online safety training programme for parents and teachers does not compromise the independence of its research work. (Ben Margot/AP)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Dublin City University (DCU) says a €330,000 sponsorship deal with Facebook for an online safety training programme for parents and teachers does not compromise the independence of its research work.

The three-year initiative, led by National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre (ABC) at DCU, will offer training to teachers and parents of 12-17-year-olds in every post-primary school in the country, starting in January.

The programme includes face-to-face workshops and online modules to give participants the confidence and skills to identify and understand bullying and to support teenagers around online safety.

School principals have cited a lack of time and resources available to train teachers and the need for additional support as the main challenges in tackling bullying and online safety in schools.

Although under discussion since earlier this year, the programme’s launch comes in the wake of controversies about inappropriate content and hacking at the social networking platform, which has more than 2bn users worldwide.

And this week, the Dublin mother of 21-year-old Nicole Fox, who took her own life earlier this year after persistent online bullying, criticised lack of political action following her calls for tougher laws in this area.

Speaking the launch, ABC director Professor James O’Higgins Norman and Facebook executives addressed concerns about a potential conflict of interest arising from DCU accepting funding from a tech giant whose platform may be implicated in bullying and other online safety issues.

Prof O’ Higgins Norman said, “we would not be here today with Facebook, or anyone else, if there was any sense of interference in what we are about.”

He said the training programme was based on ongoing research “and regardless of who funds our research, the integrity of the research process and what comes out of that is of most importance to us.”

Facebook’s head of public policy in Ireland Niamh Sweeney said while they were providing the funding and would work together on annual reports and insights “in terms of content and how they roll it out, it is very much their programme”.

Prof O’Higgins Norman contacted the tech giant expressing concern after a Channel 4 programme in July highlighted how Facebook moderators in Dublin were instructed not to remove extreme, abusive or graphic content from the platform even when it violated the company's guidelines. An internal Facebook investigation is underway.

Ms Sweeney said “we sat down a couple of times, and as recently as last week, to go through where we were in addressing those, and the remedial actions we were taking.”  

Prof O’Higgins Norman said that they had found in their relationship with Facebook, over the last few years, “any questions we have, we have access to all areas and we are able to answer the questions with integrity”.

Facebook’s global safety policy manager Julie de Bailliencourt  said “making sure people feel safe when they come to Facebook is our most important responsibility, especially when it comes to young people. 

The initiative has been welcomed by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Children (ISPCC) and the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD)

The ABC is an internationally-recognised research centre and is in a partnership with UNESCO to tackle bullying in schools and cyberspace.

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