President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said yesterday the fight against cyberbullying should not only include the strengthening of existing legislation but also the enactment of a specific law.

“We must do more to ensure that online bullying is... acknowledged as a major offence.

“To be able to do this, we must strengthen existing legislation and also consider a specific law that highlights the crimes of cyberbullying,” she said.

The President was addressing a conference on digital dangers, including cyberbullying, organised by Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi yesterday. The theme was ‘Type in love – type out hate’.

She stressed that bullying of any sort did endless damage to children’s peace of mind, their families and communities.

Society could not remain passive “in the face of so many broken children, due to any sort of bullying”, she said. One could not be complacent or content with sporadic initiatives to address a “scourge which is ruining the innocence and positivity of our children and young people”.

A majority of those affected – 55 per cent – said it caused depression

A European Commission report last year – ‘Cyberbullying among young people’ – showed that more than one in 10 children aged 11 to 16 said they had experienced serious bullying online. A majority of those affected – 55 per cent – said it caused depression.

EU countries have been focusing on such issues for over a decade. The first European public consultation on media literacy was held in 2006, and the first European congress on media literacy followed in 2009.

Still, according to a recent report, only four European countries have a well-developed media literacy policy and 12 have an underdeveloped one. Malta has no such policy at all.

Ms Coleiro Preca feels that a media literacy policy is particularly necessary in Malta in the light of the growing risks of cyberbullying. She said media literacy had to become an essential part of the national and European educational curriculum, because children had to be educated in the correct use of electronic and digital media to keep themselves safe at all times.

Opening the conference, Ms Mizzi said that the internet brought unlimited access to information. With over one billion users worldwide, the internet was one of life’s major necessities almost everywhere.

For most users, it was a tool that facilitated communication and information, but for others it could be a means of exploitation and abuse, she added.

“The digital age, with its new technology, has brought new challenges. The problem of bullying is a massive one. We, as adults and parents, have a duty to protect our children and our communities from this new type of abuse. Parents have to investigate their children’s behaviour and monitor time spent on the internet,” Ms Mizzi continued.

She promised those present she would continue to flag the subject of cyberbullying at the EU level so the European Commission would continue raising awareness and helping in the fight against online abuse and bullying.

Family and Social Solidarity Minister Michael Farrugia, Competitiveness and Digital, Maritime and Services Economy Minister Emanuel Mallia, Education and Employment Minister Evarist Bartolo and Police Inspector Timothy Zammit from the cybercrime unit also addressed the conference.

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