i Editor's Letter: Time to start taking the dangers of the web seriously


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The Independent Online


Every time we hear that a teenager has killed her or himself because they have been subjected to bullying or blackmail via social media, people pipe up to suggest an obvious  solution: simply remove yourself from Skype/ Twitter/ Facebook/ask.fm/ the internet. Abstain! Then there can be no cyber-threat.

Totally unhelpful. That’s like taking your kid out of school because they’re being bullied, isolating them from their social circle and so much else that now happens over a broadband connection. We can’t wish away the web.

Children and teens can be cruel – and don’t have to stop at the school gates any more. But the blackmailers alleged to have caused the death of Daniel Perry, 17, an apprentice mechanic in Dunfermline, by tricking him into thinking he was exchanging video footage with a girl and then threatening to send the clips to his family, are plain depraved.

“Knowing him as I do,” his mother said, “he has felt embarrassed,  horrified, and has thought he’s let  everybody down. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, just what anyone his age might do. But this scam is all about exploiting young people.”

Of course it’s better not to engage in sexual behaviour online with  people you don’t know well and trust, but people make mistakes. And we can all lose perspective about the possible consequences of our actions. People bruise deep at that age, though, and shame and jibes can kill.

Josh Unsworth, 15, Hannah Smith, 14, Ciara Pugsley, 15, Erin Gallagher, 13... how many more people must die before web firms take this seriously, and hunt down abusers independently, without needing to feel the heat from an appalled Fleet Street?

Samaritans is available around the clock on 08457 90 90 90.


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