SOCIAL media giant Facebook has agreed to work directly with Irish schools to help combat cyberbullying.
A deal was brokered at a meeting between senior Facebook executives and officials at the Department of Education.
Facebook has been under growing pressure after a number of disturbing incidents where students or teachers were targeted on social media sites.
In one case earlier this year,
Facebook repeatedly refused to remove an offensive photograph and text casting a slur on a teacher at the second-level Colaiste Chiarain, Croom, Co Limerick, stating that it did not believe it violated its standards on bullying and harassment.
More recently a co-educational school in the Dublin area experienced significant delays in having offensive material about a teacher removed.
Online bullying on another social media site, ask.fm, has been linked to teen suicides, including that of 15-year-old Ciara Pugsley from Carrick-on- Shannon, Co Leitrim.
Second-level principals are increasingly concerned about a number of issues, including a refusal to, or delay in, taking down abusive posts and underage (under 13s) students setting up Facebook accounts.
The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) wants Facebook to set up a special hotline to deal with requests from schools so that inappropriate and abusive posts can be removed quickly.
The Department of Education stepped in after Facebook ignored a recent request from the NAPD for a meeting.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said he was “very disappointed”
that Facebook would not engage directly with the NAPD and facilitate a meeting with them.
The meeting was attended by Patricia Cartes, Facebook's Public Policy Manager, and Simon Milner, Director of Policy, UK and Ireland.
A spokesperson for theDepartment of Education said afterwards that the meeting was “positive and constructive”.
Agreement was reached on a way forward to involve Facebook, the department, secondlevel school management and leadership bodies, including the NAPD.
The parties will “work to0gether to tackle bullying in Irish schools and to provide an effective channel for school leaders to quickly raise concerns when required”.
The minister said he was “pleased” with the outcome. NAPD director Clive Byrne welcomed what he described as a “positive development”.
He said he was looking forward to helping to design the “effective channels” of communication between Facebook and schools.
While Facebook has a “zero tolerance “ approach to bullying, NAPD has been concerned that the network is not prepared to deal directly with schools' requests to take down abusive posts.
In his recent letter to Facebook seeking a meeting, Mr Byrne said given the deeply hurtful nature of some online posts, and their sometimes tragic consequences, we believe that Facebook also had a duty to handle calls from schools, users and parents directly using dedicated liaison teams”.