Belfast Telegraph

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg asked about suicide of Northern Ireland schoolboy

The founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg has been asked about the suicide of a Northern Ireland schoolboy when being questioned by MEPs.

He was appearing before senior politicians in Brussels to answer questions about information security and privacy.

Diane Dodds of the DUP raised the case of 17-year-old Ronan Hughes from County Tyrone who took his own life in 2015 after online blackmailers tricked him into sending them intimate pictures of himself.

“This is only one example of the rise of false accounts within Facebook,” she said.

“I would like you to tell us today what you are doing to stop the rise of false Facebook accounts which deliberately target young and vulnerable people.”

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Ronan Hughes

However, Mr Zuckerberg did not directly respond to the case of Ronan Huges.

The format of the session in Brussels - which saw MEPs make statements and pose questions to Mr Zuckerberg, with the Facebook chief responding to their comments at the end - drew criticism for allowing the tech entrepreneur to escape without giving full answers.

He said: “The bottom line here is that hate speech, bullying, terror, violence - all this content has no place on our services.

“But in order to really execute that we need to upgrade and do a better job of executing our policies.”

He said the firm was making greater use of artificial intelligence to detect offensive content.

A Romanian man, Iulian Enache, was sentenced to four years in prison after being found guilty of blackmailing the Coalisland teenager.

Commenting after the session, MEP Diane Dodds said: “Ronan’s story is one that has always come to my mind when cyberbullying or social media are discussed.

"His family could be any young family, anyone’s son or daughter who find themselves tormented or in a dark place where family and friends cannot protect them.

"This is one story, but there are and continue to be too many stories like Ronan’s.

"That is why I asked Mark Zuckerberg what work he is doing with authorities and third parties to ensure young people and families are educated about online safety, who they can contact and how they can seek help.

"Facebook and other social media platforms are hugely profitable and have a social responsibility to their users and society as a whole to ensure they do good and not harm. This includes doing much more to tackle the rise of malevolent fake accounts that are used to spread hate and target other users."

She added: "Mr. Zuckerberg dealt with issues raised thematically, lacking engagement with the detail of questions, but has committed to Facebook contacting MEP’s who contribute directly to answer the more specific points raised.

"I look forward to hearing more on plans to help protect our young people and others who are particularly vulnerable to such abuse or trolling."

If you or someone you know is in distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.

The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also access the Lifeline website at www.lifelinehelpline.info

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