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Internet demands our vigilance

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 09/06/2015

Social media, when used as its designers intended, is a very useful and powerful tool. It can enable people to keep in almost instant touch, literally from the ends of the earth, a particular boon for families separated by emigration, for example
Social media, when used as its designers intended, is a very useful and powerful tool. It can enable people to keep in almost instant touch, literally from the ends of the earth, a particular boon for families separated by emigration, for example

Social media, when used as its designers intended, is a very useful and powerful tool. It can enable people to keep in almost instant touch, literally from the ends of the earth, a particular boon for families separated by emigration, for example.

But it has a much darker side as well. Trolls wage a ceaseless vendetta against people whose views they disagree with, and their attacks can be vicious. Even more insidious is the use of social media by malevolent people to prey on vulnerable youngsters.

Coalisland teenager Ronan Hughes was one such victim who took his life after being duped into posting images online. Perhaps a more accurate description of the tragedy was that given by his local priest, Fr Benedict Fee, who said Ronan had not taken his own life, rather it was taken by faceless people who put the child into a burning building that he felt he could not escape.

That is a powerful piece of imagery which sums up the despair the young boy must have felt. Ronan was described by those who knew him as a quiet, modest 17-year-old. That is an age when problems that an older, more mature person might be able to shrug off, seem all encompassing, leaving nowhere to go.

To Ronan, what happened online must have been horrifying. Although he had told his parents of the cyber-bullying, and had made a complaint to police, that was not enough to still his fears, resulting in a promising life being cut short.

Of course this tragedy is not exceptional. There have been several instances of grown women who could not live with the shame of what they thought were private photographs being shown online and many cases of young people being driven to end their lives through cyber-bullying.

Social media is now an all pervasive part of daily life. Most postings are sheer trivia and the sort of idle chit-chat that used to be conducted by telephone. Indeed, many parents may be glad that their children are at home chatting to their friends online, but do any of us really know what our young people are doing once they log on, or who they are chatting to or what their so-called cyber friends are asking them to do?

Regulation of social media is almost impossible. Ultimately we must all exercise the same caution with our children's internet use as we would if they were hanging about with undesirable friends or exposing themselves to the dangers of drug or drink abuse.

Belfast Telegraph

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