Another death of a teenager has occurred, with claims being made that it was caused by ‘bullying’ on social media sites. Hannah Smith, from Leicestershire, in England, who was only 14, took her own life last Friday (2nd August 2013).
Her father (Dave Smith) has alleged that she was being ‘cyber bullied’ on the popular social networking site ‘Ask.fm’. He has confirmed that he gained access to her account and could identify cruel comments from other users. He has claimed that her death was caused by the actions and statements of ‘Trolls’ on the social media site. It is not yet clear whether any further claims are made against any other social networking sites. Mr. Smith made these comments directly from his own Facebook site.
Ask.fm is a social networking site which allows users to interact with each other, while keeping their identity a secret. On the most basic level it is a site where participants ask questions and the profile owner simply answers these direct questions. It is not a general conversation medium. One issue which has arisen on the site (and in fact made the site even more popular) is the fact that the parties asking questions do not have to disclose their identity. This can allow certain parties to take advantage of the position and make statements which they would not otherwise make.
This is not the first time that ask.fm has been associated with the death of a teenager. Unfortunately, in Ireland we have seen the effects of cyber bullying at their most extreme. Recently, both Ciara Pugsley from Leitrim and Erin Gallagher from Donegal, who were only fifteen and thirteen respectively took their own lives after being subjected to substantial cyber bullying on the Ask.fm site.
On a daily basis, issues are arising in relation to social networking sites. The main problem seems to be the fact that members on these sites are of the opinion that as they are not making the statements ‘out load’, or ‘in public’, that no offence has been caused or no liability can arise. This is very far from the truth. In fact, a statement made on a popular social networking site, has a more far reaching effect than a verbal statement made in public. There can be a substantial number of parties who will be able to access the statement and who may even be notified of the statement. Further to this is the fact that there is a permanent record (subject to the data holder) of the statement, which means that there are on-going issues in relation to same.
It is very important that all activities on social networking sites are monitored by parents. This will alleviate many issues at source. Where problems have escalated the Gardaí should be notified without delay.
Children need to be kept safe at all times… that means safe in school, in public, and now even in their own bedrooms.
William Clarke is a partner in Clarke Jeffers Solicitors, and a specialist in Internet Law. Clarke Jeffers © 2013