Belfast Telegraph

Facebook's Zuckerberg told of tragic Northern Ireland schoolboy Ronan Hughes

By Suzanne Breen

DUP MEP Diane Dodds says she hopes Facebook will tackle fake accounts after she raised the suicide of a Northern Ireland schoolboy with the social media giant's chief executive.

Ronan Hughes from Coalisland was blackmailed after he was tricked into sharing intimate photographs of himself online.

The 17-year-old took his own life in June 2015. Mrs Dodds questioned Mark Zuckerberg about what steps Facebook would take to prevent such situations recurring.

The Facebook chief executive was appearing before MEPs in Brussels yesterday. He did not respond in detail to Mrs Dodds' question but pledged to contact MEPs who had raised questions with him to answer their specific concerns.

Mrs Dodds asked him what action he was planning to take in order to stop fake accounts. Mr Zuckerberg said Facebook had removed 580m fake accounts in the first quarter of this year.

Mrs Dodds said that in a few week's time, Mr Hughes' family would "mark the third anniversary of the loss of their son to online bullying".

She explained that Ronan had been the victim of a false account set up by "online bullies who persuaded him to send an intimate photograph of himself and then asked for £,3,000".

The DUP MEP expressed concern about the rising trend of fake accounts on Facebook.

In response to the questions raised by Mrs Dodds and others in the European Parliament, Mr Zuckerberg said: "Bullying, terror, violence - all this content has no place on our services".

He said the social media giant was investing in new technology and additional staff so it could be more proactive in identifying harmful content.

Facebook had developed systems to identify fake accounts within minutes of registration, he said.

"We also have a significant operation which is working on identifying fake accounts that get through that initial filter, so we can identify them all," he said. "Once they are in the Facebook community, our best estimate today is that it's a single digit per cent of the accounts, but we're constantly working on improving our tools to be able to identify that, and that's extremely important as well."

Mrs Dodds said it was vital for her as a parent that "the protection of our children was on the agenda" at the European Parliament session.

Mr Zuckerberg had to be challenged not only on political concerns but on the bullying and blackmail of vulnerable young people on social media, she said.

"This is a scourge on all societies but has proven a particular problem in Northern Ireland," she continued.

"Ronan's 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.

"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."

Mrs Dodds added: "Mr Zuckerberg dealt with issues raised thematically, lacking engagement with the detail of questions, but has committed to Facebook contacting MEPs 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."

Julian Enache (31), who blackmailed Ronan, was jailed for four years last August. The Romanian also admitted producing and distributing indecent images of a child.

Belfast Telegraph

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