General News — 24 February 2014
Mental health advocate says Twitter and Instagram need to act more quickly on online bullies

A TOP mental health advocate has hit out at Twitter and Instagram after TV presenter Charlotte Dawson’s death, saying they need to respond more quickly to bullying attacks on vulnerable users.

Dawson, 47, was outspoken about her depression and in 2012 publicly waged war on so-called Twitter trolls.

The New Zealand-born star was found dead in her Woolloomooloo apartment in Sydney on Saturday morning.

Amid the public outpouring of grief that followed, many on social media pointed at hateful comments directed at Dawson in recent months.

One user wrote: “Trolls that abused & tormented @MsCharlotteD, you have blood on your hands & YOU are responsible for her death- shame on you!!!”

BeyondBlue CEO Kate Carnell said illnesses such as depression are usually linked to a cocktail of factors, including genes.

BeyondBlue is an organisation that is working to reduce the impact or anxiety and depression by raising awareness of them.bigstock_Internet_Keyboard_5003627

But she said relentless online abuse can exacerbate mental health concerns.

“With depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts — it’s always a mixture of things,” she said on Sunday.

“I don’t think we can say that it was the cyber-bullying … but putting significant extra stress on her certainly would have made things worse.”

Ms Carnell said Facebook was ahead of Twitter and Instagram in actively protecting users from bullying.

“They’ve got to find better ways to be able to respond really quickly to reports of this sort of bullying,” she said.

Former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson is leading a charge for national laws to tackle all forms of bullying.

The coalition has already flagged legislative changes aimed at protecting children from abuse online.

Its mooted reforms include the creation of a children’s e-safety commissioner, new laws to get bullying material taken down fast from large social media sites, and a new national cyber-bullying offence.

But Mr Nicholson says any new laws should protect the whole community.

“I don’t think we can stop at children,” he said.

“There’s a bit of the old concept that, ‘Oh yes, we were all bullied at school, and we got over it’ …

“This is a much more serious problem than we’ve ever accepted.”

Public submissions to the government’s proposed laws close in March, with laws expected before parliament by the end of the year.

Dawson’s death has hit close to home for one Tasmanian family.

Reuben Cunningham founded anti-bullying organisation Angels Goal after relentless abuse in the schoolyard and elsewhere left his teenage daughter in hospital.

Mr Cunningham said that Dawson reached out to the Cunningham family in 2012 and championed their cause, and the family is devastated by her death.

“She wouldn’t have wanted to feel like she’s letting anyone down,” Mr Cunningham said on Sunday.

“That was Charlotte: beautiful person, beautiful nature.”

He wants tougher penalties introduced nationwide for anyone caught bullying, online or otherwise.

“The laws have to be changed so that Charlotte’s death isn’t in vain,” he said.

This article first appeared on ‘Daily Telegraph’ on 23 February 2014.

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