A THIRD of young people aged between 14 and 18 have been the victims of online abuse in the past six months, and as many as one in ten carry out “trolling” attacks, a youth charity has found.
The research was conducted by youth volunteering charity vInspired, which is launching the campaign “Lolz not Trolls” to tackle the issue, with the backing of celebrities including reality TV star Lauren Goodger, presenter Caroline Flack and singer Delilah.
Trolling, the act of sending abusive messages to others online, has becoming increasingly prevalent on the internet.
More than a quarter (27 per cent) of the 2,000 people questioned said they were the subject of regular online attacks, with the majority of the messages criticising the victim’s appearance (40 per cent), while 16 per cent were attacked on the grounds of their religion or race.
Facebook emerged as the most common forum where people became victims of trolling.
Sustained abuse resulted in almost a third (29 per cent) of the young people surveyed losing confidence in themselves.
However, despite the detrimental effect, nearly a quarter (23 per cent) admitted they found trolling funny.
The campaign follows two 14-year-old pupils from a Clackmannanshire school being charged by police earlier this year for breaching the Communications Act after setting up a Facebook page designed to “humiliate, defame and insult” teaching staff.
Trolling has been blamed for several suicides. US student Jessica Laney, 16, and 32-year-old British model Claudia Boerner both killed themselves after being targeted by bullies through social networking websites.
Professor Mark Griffiths, a social media expert who is working with vInspired on the campaign, said the worrying phenomenon was expanding and becoming increasingly prevalent as more youngsters grew up in the digital world.
He said: “The ability to remain anonymous online can lead to people saying what they may not [say] in person, over social networking channels.
“Young people need to understand the consequences that these comments can have, and it’s important to teach them how to use social media correctly, to make the internet a safer and happier place.”
Professor Griffiths has helped create a downloadable guide of how to use social media, which is available from the campaign’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/DoSomethingUK.
The vInspired campaign aims to give teenagers information on appropriate online behaviour by following a set of “netiquette” guidelines.
It reminds users not to say anything online that they would not in person, and not to write something their own mother would be unhappy to read.
It also encourages teenagers to report any online bullying against themselves or friends.
Of the 2,000 youngsters polled, more than two-thirds (67 per cent) said they received the abusive messages from someone they knew, and almost half (47 per cent) said they kept the attacks secret.
The research showed evidence of a “digital disconnection” about trolling, with nearly one in five (18 per cent) thinking messages sent in cyberspace are less damaging than insults hurled face to face.
Terry Ryall, chief executive of vInspired, said: “We have all heard of cases where youngsters have harmed themselves due to troll attacks – so writing a trolling message isn’t harmless fun, it’s potentially deadly.
“Our aim isn’t to attack the trolls, but instead to get young people to do something positive and pledge not to be a troll.”