Cyber attacks to the soul

Over the last few weeks, a new realisation slowly dawned upon our society. Bullying was no longer just an epidemic that dominated our schoolyards and classrooms; it had infected social media. This isn’t news, we’ve all seen it, and it just became a reality after its harrowing effects visited us upon our own doorsteps.

In the last month, two families had their lives torn apart when their daughters took their own lives. Ciara Pugsley, (15), Leitrim, and Erin Gallagher, (13), Donegal, chose to end their own lives after they fell victim to cyber-bullying.

The girls were simply two innocent bystanders in the huge volume of traffic on social media websites. Anonymous interactions, connections and friendships are formed everyday on social media websites. Unfortunately, things turned nasty, and these girls were violated, and bullied to the point of no return.

Unfortunately, suicide is a far too regular occurrence in Ireland. According to a PISA DCU (Research Project), the rate of suicide amongst the youth in Ireland is the 5th highest in the EU.

It’s estimated that almost 525 people committed suicide across the state last year. In recent years, crippling financial difficulties and job losses have been some of the main factors in poor mental health and suicide. Donegal Mayor, Frank McBrearty, has spoken out in the media. He claims that we should be “ensuring that no other teenager commits suicide”. He hopes to see some “legislation that protects everyone and promotes positive mental health”.

His statement came after it was alleged that the HSE were informed of Erin Gallagher’s ‘risk of suicide eight weeks prior’. Despite several attempts to speak at a board meeting in Erin’s school, he claims his voice fell upon deaf ears and he chose to turn to the media to highlight this alleged incident.
Erin had been a user of Latvian-based website Ask.fm. This is where she fell victim to anonymous taunts and Gardaí have been questioning various girls in regards to the incident. Ask.fm founder, Mark Trebin, has spoke out and insisted ‘the media is knocking on the wrong door’.

Is it up to us to ensure that we are educated and report those who are acting in a way of misconduct? Or should there be legislation introduced, forcing social networking sites to be more vigilant upon its content, in respect to its users?

The question is, how many lives will be lost before something changes?
From personal experience, I was educated in the home and the classroom on bullying and how to protect myself. This was way back when the most exciting thing to be done on the computer was ‘Paint’.

With social networking users becoming younger and younger, we must accept that the world in which we raise our children is not just the environment around us, but also a cyber world.

Education is key. Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn, also shares this belief. He spoke to The Irish Sun this week, saying ‘we owe it to our children, and to the memories of Erin and Ciara, to educate ourselves, and to help delete cyber-bullying’.

Emma Jane Hade

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