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iPad use in schools 'worsens bullying problem'

THE cyber-bullying problem could become even worse in schools as new technology devices such as iPads become the norm for students, it has been warned.

While the digital revolution is being welcomed in schools, it will "put weapons in the hands of pupils", an Oireachtas committee was told.

Cyber security expert Paul C Dwyer said such technology could be used for the wrong reasons, such as taking pictures and using them inappropriately.

"This is like a viral epidemic; you think you have a problem now," he told the committee on transport and communications.

Mr Dwyer was among representatives from the National Anti-Bullying Coalition addressing the latest in a series of committee hearings on the challenges arising from irresponsible use of social media.

He said there was a need for a holistic approach to dealing with the range of online threats, including cyber predators.


Mr Dwyer supported calls for social media companies to have hotlines to deal with school inquiries, and also said teachers needed to be trained in this area.

Principals have expressed frustration that social networks either do not respond or are slow to react to school requests to take down abusive posts.

Schools have to rely on email to report any problems and are critical that the social media companies do not provide dedicated phone lines through which complaints or concerns can be channelled.

One area where Ireland could strengthen its legislative framework would be by ratifying the EU convention on cyber crime, Mr Dwyer said.

It would create a "level playing field" between countries.

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Mr Dwyer said social networks could also do more to police problems that arise online, in ways that would not affect the privacy of individuals.

Meanwhile, parents are increasingly confiscating their children's iPads and smartphones when they misbehave.

Eight out of 10 parents with children aged 14 or younger said in a survey that restricting the use of gadgets was their preferred form of discipline.

Children saw having their tablets and telephones taken away as the worst method of punishment.

The average child spends nearly two hours a day on their gadgets and one-quarter use them for more than four hours, according to research for the online retailer Pixmania.