The Malta Independent 21 November 2018, Wednesday

Anti-Cyberharassment Alliance to hold public consultation

Malta Independent Monday, 23 September 2013, 17:16 Last update: about 5 years ago

Laws against cyber-harassment could be in place by early next year if everything goes according the the Anti-Cyberharassment Alliance’s plans. In the coming weeks, the alliance will hold public consultation meetings, after which a draft policy will be presented to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leaders. Who will then be encouraged to act fast and carry out the necessary changes to existing laws by late January or early February.

Alliance Chairperson and Labour MP Deborah Schembri said that cyber harassment is a serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Statistics show that harassment over the internet is an everyday reality, with over 1 million bullying complaints registered last year on Facebook alone. This figure does not include bullying by e-mail and SMS, and the countless cases that go unreported.

Dr Schembri said that victims can be bullied even in the ‘safety’ of their homes.

 

Effects of cyber-harassment

Though it may not always be in the form of direct threats, cyber-harassment almost always has an effect on the victims’ lives. It can have negative effects on people’s lives, health and jobs.

Dr Schembri mentioned a particular case where a man lost his €90,000-a-year job after his ex-wife posted lies about him online.

Alliance member Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando mentioned the recent case of Hannah Smith, a 14-year-old English girl who committed suicide after suffering from bullying on the ask.fm website. This could happen anywhere, he said.

Another member of the alliance, psychologist Charles Azzopardi said that he was aware of a number of cases where Maltese children had attempted suicide, in some cases more than once, after being bullied on the internet.

He said that people could be sexually harassed on online groups, while abuse on children could start at school and continue on social networking sites.

“Perpetrators usually target your weaknesses, and they can break you,” Dr Azzopardi said. “Let us not hide behind the excuse of children’s innocence.”

The psychologist said that cyber-harassment can be carried out by children on children, by adults on children, and between adults. Someone could be using a fake profile on the internet, and your children would never suspect that they were speaking to an adult. It is imperative that parents are made aware of the dangers and possibilities.

MCAST chairman Silvio Debono said that like other means of bullying, cyber-harassment could have life-long effects. He said that bullied students could end up leaving school and missing out on good career opportunities. “This campaign would still be worth it if it was for just one child,’ Mr Debono said.

 

Plan of action

Dr Pullicino Orlando said that Malta already has laws against harassment and bullying, but these need to be tweaked to also include cyber-harassment. These laws also need to be more “user-friendly.”

The Anti-Cyberharassment Alliance’s plan of action includes a public consultation period where everyone can contribute and share ideas. For this reason ACHA has set up a website, www.achamalta.com.

Suggestions from the public will then be incorporated into a draft policy, which will be analized in a November seminar. The revised policy will be presented to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, who would then be expected to take the necessary action to make the necessary changes in the Maltese laws.

Dr Deborah Schembri said that the alliance hopes that the legislation will be approved and come into force by next February.

Asked by The Malta Independent whether the Police Force is equipped to tackle these new issues, Dr Pullicino Orlando said that the alliance wants to create a more practical way for victims to report cases of bullying, and this would, inevitably, lead to an increase in reports to the Police.  

He referred to a recent news report that said that police had turned down a bullying report because “they did not have the time” and said that it would be useless to report abuse if it would not be investigated.

The alliance also agrees that sentences related to harassment should be harsher, but they should reflect the gravity of the particular case. The law should distinguish between a case of defamation between five people and one between a thousand.

The Anti-Cyberharassment Allianc's members are Chairman and Labour MP Deborah Schembri, MCST Executive Chairman Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, PL MEP Joseph Cuschieri, former Minister Jesmond Mugliette, Family Therapist Charles Azzopardi, MCAST Chairman Silvio Debono and IT teacher Keith Cutajar. 

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