Dublin South West Sinn Féin TD, Seán Crowe, said that the recent death of a schoolgirl in England, who took her own life after suffering online abuse, is another tragic reminder of the dangers of cyber-bullying. He said it shines a bright and uncomfortable light on the need for new and enhanced responses in helping to combat it.

Crowe described the increasing number of deaths, especially among young people, due to suicide as a plague. He believes that the circumstances that led to the recent suicide of 14-year-Hannah Smith in England has many commonalities with Irish youngsters Erin Gallagher and Ciara Pugsley who also died after being similarly targeted by online bullies.

Deputy Seán Crowe said:

“The very sad and tragic suicide of English teenager, Hannah Smith, has been directly attributed by her family and friends to the abuse she suffered through the posting of anonymous messages via a website Ask.fm.

“This latest tragedy is a timely reminder of the deaths of Donegal school girl Erin Gallagher (13) and Leitrim teen Ciara Pugsley (15), who were also targeted in a similar way.

“These deaths highlight the growing dangers of online bullying.

“In a survey on the issue carried out before Christmas, 17% of teens said they had experienced some type of cyber-bullying.

“Despite this, social media sites such as Ask.fm, allow their users complete anonymity regardless of what they post through their website.

“The failure of companies, like Ask.fm, to regulate its online content and provide adequate safeguards, is extremely worrying and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“Stricter controls are needed, in tandem with creating greater awareness amongst young people of the possible consequences of social media, if misused by individuals to bully their peers.

“Recent attempts to raise Irish internet safety with the launch of the Watch Your Space campaign, devoted to providing a portal for young people to show their support for victims of cyber bullying, and the introduction of a new module in schools called Connect with Respect, aimed at helping students understand the impact of cyber-bullying, are all steps in the right direction.

“Suicide is not a new issue, but the amount of young people who are dying by suicide has become a modern plague with a frightening amount of deaths in recent years, and society is currently at a loss in how to actively respond to the grip it is having on our communities.

“More needs to be done to educate pupils, teachers and parents of the dangers that can arise from bullying behaviour.

“In January this year, Sinn Féin introduced a bill that would have updated the existing school bullying guidelines to include cyber-bullying.

“The current Government regrettably rejected our legislation, but this latest suicide linked as it is to online bullying has highlighted yet again the dangers facing too many vulnerable people.”