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Campaign to stamp out cyber bullying

A woman who is being harassed online only leaves her house to visit her psychologist and, when she does, she wears large sunglasses to ensure she is not recognised by her abusers.

Her psychologist, Charles Azzopardi, was giving examples of the repercussions of online harassment – a growing reality affecting adults and children.

He said he knew of children who tried to end their lives because they were bullied – cases that recall Hannah Smith, the teenage girl who committed suicide because she was being bullied online in the UK.

“Some bullying starts at school and continues on Facebook,” he said during a press conference held to officially roll out a campaign to improve cyber harassment laws.

The campaign is being driven by the Anti-Cyber Harassment Alliance Malta that was set up in August. Back then the alliance started an online petition calling for improved legislation. So far it has collected just under 2,500 signatures.

The alliance is chaired by Labour MP Deborah Schembri and includes member Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando. The duo had fronted the divorce campaign.

Other members of the alliance, apart from Dr Azzopardi, include former Nationalist MP Jesmond Mugliett, Labour MEP Joseph Cuschieri and Silvio Debono, chairman of the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology.

Some bullying starts at school and continues on Facebook

Dr Schembri said something had to be done to protect the victims of this type of harassment.

“If someone teases you in the playground there are a few people to witness it, but if you are teased on the internet the audience is much wider,” she said. As things stood, she said, Malta had laws that vaguely covered cyber harassment but there were gaps that needed to be filled to make the law more effective and immediate.

The alliance aimed to create awareness about cyber harassment and push for better legislation.

It would start by collecting feedback and recommendations from the public through the website www.achamalta.com.

Once the recommendations were sifted a draft policy would be drawn up.

Dr Schembri, a family lawyer, said that in her line of work she noticed several cases of harassment when couples were going through a separation.

She told the story of a woman who posted lies online about her husband causing him to lose his job and annual salary of €89,000.

Mr Debono spoke about the lifetime repercussions of such harassment. He said he knew of students who had stopped studying due to bullying.

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