22 Feb 2013

Online trolling: one in three young people affected

If you have been trolled in the last six months, you are not alone. A new survey finds one in three young people aged 14 to 18 received offensive online comments – and one in 10 have carried it out.

Online abuse: one in three young people affected (G)

It used to be confined to the deeper corners of the internet.

But one in three young people were the subject of trolling in the last six months – and one in four is affected by it regularly.

A survey of 2,000 teenagers found that the majority of offensive online comments by “trolls” come in the form of criticism of the victim’s appearance (40 per cent) or about their religion or race (16 per cent), with Facebook the most common place for victims to be trolled.

Responses suggest that many believe insults made online are less damaging than those hurled face to face: nearly half (49 per cent) believe it is ok to say things online that you would not in person.

Read more: New rules to identify internet bullies

‘Lolz not trolls’

The reason many young people gave for carrying out trolling themselves was because they thought it was funny. And when asked who the attacks come from, 67 per cent said they received abusive messages from people they knew.

However almost a third of respondents said that online trolling caused them to lose confidence in themselves.

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. Professor Mark Griffiths

The youth volunteering charity vInspired carried out the survey of 14- to 18 year-olds and has launched a “lolz not trolls” campaign, asking young people to make a pledge not to troll.

The survey follows the publication of a US study which found that children who are bullied at school are at a higher risk of anxiety disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts as adults. Based on 20 years of data from over 1,000 people and published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal, the report found that bullying in childhood has a profound effect on people’s ability to function as an adult.

Consequences of trolling

Professor Mark Griffiths, a social media expert working with vInspired said the phenomenon trolling is growing as more youngsters grow up in the digital world.

“The ability to remain anonymous online can lead to people saying what they may not in person over social networking channels,” he said.

“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.”

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 themselves, abiding by the ‘netiquette’ guide we have created.”