Online abuse and bullying must be outlawed and severely punished under new legislation, says a mother whose teenage son took his own life.
Elaine Hughes (42) said “vicious bullying” messages were found on her son Darren’s mobile phone after his death.
“I would have printed the messages and brought them to the gardai if Darren had only told me,” said Ms Hughes, speaking at her home in Swords.
“New laws are needed with severe punishments to stop online abuse and bullying.”
Her call comes as a number of politicians – including Dublin West TD Joan Burton – have spoken out about the effects of abusive posts on social media.
Darren Hughes-Gibson was just 17 when he died. His body was found at Stephenstown Industrial Estate in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, on August 23,
Gardai have received 2,500 pages of deleted messages from Darren’s Facebook account following an application to US authorities by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
The garda investigation into his death is continuing.
“Online bullying is horrific and is affecting a lot of youths today. It’s very prevalent. It’s easy to sit behind a computer and say whatever you like. It’s very cowardly and it’s vicious,” said Elaine.
“Darren was threatened with pure violence. I couldn’t believe what I saw on his phone ...
they told him they’d break his legs and that he should ‘go and die’.”
She said Darren had been bullied throughout his life because of the colour of his skin and because he wore a hearing aid. The teenager was living in New Haven Bay, Balbriggan, when he received the abusive messages.
“People who do things like that need to be brought to justice. The law needs to be changed to adapt with the times,” she said.
“If there’s no punishment to those who do it, there’s no reason for them to stop. The DPP needs a law addressing this type of abuse and bullying.”
Elaine called on politicians to bring in the new laws that are needed. “It needs to stop,” she added.
Darren’s inquest hearing last January was told that gardai agreed to send a sample of the complaints arising from the Facebook messages to the DPP to progress the case.
A Facebook spokesman said the company “encourages law enforcement agencies to follow our guidelines to help take their cases forward”.
Former Labour leader Ms Burton told the Herald she is “very concerned” about the impact of abusive social media messages on teenagers.
“If social media is important to them they can feel very isolated,” she added.
“Simple rows and falling out with friends could be elevated by copying some of the abusive material online in the sense that people might begin to think that somehow or other this is acceptable.
“I’d like to see the social media companies taking responsibility for protecting people from hate speech.”
Ms Burton said many politicians – particularly women – had received such abuse.
She believes that the companies should filter out abusive language and that there should be measures put in place to tackle serial offenders.
“Social media has done an awful lot of very good things.
“It would be an awful pity if what has become a fantastic platform of communication was to become abused for evil purposes,” she said.