Internet trolling: quarter of teenagers suffered online abuse last year
One in four teenagers suffered hate incidents online last year, a figure described by experts as a “wake-up call” on the impact of internet trolling.
The survey of 13- to 18-year-olds found that 24% had been targeted due to their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or transgender identity. One in 25 said they were singled out for abuse all or most of the time.
Will Gardner, chief executive of the charity Childnet and director of the UK SaferInternet Centre, which published the study, said: “It is a wake-up call for all of us to play our part in helping create a better internet for all, to ensure that everyone can benefit from the opportunities that technology provides for building mutual respect and dialogue, facilitating rights, and empowering everyone to be able to express themselves and be themselves online – whoever they are.”
The survey also found four in five adolescents had seen or heard online hate during the previous 12 months. Researchers defined such abuse as offensive, mean or threatening, and either targeted directly at a person or group or generally shared online.
Teenagers with disabilities and those from African, Caribbean, Asian, Middle Eastern and other minority ethnic groups were more likely to encountercyberbullying, the report concluded.
The survey of more than 1,500 teenagers was published to mark Safer Internet Day.
Of those questioned, 41% said online hate had increased in the past year. Social media was found to be the most common platform in which young people witnessed such abuse, which in some instances can be classified as a hate crime.
However, the majority of respondents said victims had received support online, with 93% saying they had seen their friends post supportive content last year.
Gardner said: “While it is encouraging to see that almost all young people believe no one should be targeted with online hate, and heartening to hear about the ways young people are using technology to take positive action online to empower each other and spread kindness, we were surprised and concerned to see that so many had been exposed to online hate in the last year.”
Liam Hackett, chief executive of Ditch the Label, an anti-bullying charity, said cyberbullying should not be treated separately but as an “extension of bullying”. “We have to understand why people bully online to help them stop. There is a lot of emphasis on reactive support but no consideration made to how we can tackle bullying proactively,” he said.
“There’s a lot of research to show disempowerment offline, or stressful and traumatic experiences, can lead young people to troll, and that the possibility of anonymity had allowed cyberbullying to increase.”
The education secretary, Nicky Morgan, said: “The internet is a powerful tool which can have brilliant and virtually limitless benefits, but it must be used sensibly and safely. We are working hard to make the web a safer place for children but we can’t do it alone and parents have a vital role to play in educating young people.”
Convictions for crimes under a law to prosecute internet trolls increased eightfold in a decade, according to data published last year, with 155 people jailed for sending messages or other material which was “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.