This text is taken from this Telegraph article.
The dark truth about how children troll each other online
Hear the word ‘trolling’ and chances are you think of some of the most high-profile cases of recent years: Caroline Criado-Perez receiving abuse for her campaign to get women onto banknotes, Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda being forced off Twitter following her father’s tragic suicide and Sinead O’Conner deleting her account because of “too much abuse.”
As a society, we tend to associate trolling (that’s online harassment) with celebrities, journalists, high-profile spokespeople and anyone who dares to share strong views online. These are the examples that hit the headlines, and they’re the ones we visualise when we think about online abuse.
But trolling doesn’t just affect people in the public eye – some of its victims haven’t even left school yet.
To mark Safer Internet Day, a new report has found that a quarter of teenagers in the UK have been trolled. Out of more than 1,500 children aged between 13 and 18, 24 per cent told Childnet they’d been targeted on the internet because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or transgender identity.
One in 25 said they are singled out for abuse “all or most of the time”.
In the 21st century, trolling is so rife that it now affects a quarter of teenagers. For young people today, it is so ordinary that 82 per cent said they have witnessed or heard online hate in the past 12 months.
Julia Fossi, a senior analyst for NSPCC’s online safety team, says the national charity received more than 7,000 phone calls from children about online bullying last year. The calls ranged from children saying they had seen inappropriate content, to those who were being targeted by peers, and those who were suffering anonymous hate on internet forums.
“It’s a spectrum,” explains Fossi. “[Trolling] can take a variety of different forms. It can be sending threatening messages, creating and sharing images, creating fake accounts or hacking people’s accounts and using their names to embarrass them. The more extreme end would be setting up sites or groups.”
Will Gardner, chief executive of charity Childnet and director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, adds: “It could be someone is targeted directly, or it’s towards a community and is put out there and children see it and find it threatening. It could be someone posting an offensive joke that’s particularly negative to people and communities. It can be a hate crime that breaks the law.”
The Childnet report found that 35 per cent of the direct trolling experienced by young people was committed by their peers. In these instances they may have been targeted on social media, where they can see who is trolling them or it could be an extension of offline bullying.
But it’s most common for culprits and trolls to be anonymous. Fossi says there are numerous examples of the way children do this. Some will create ‘voting systems’ where they give marks out of 10 to their peers based on their appearance or abilities.
Others can involve creating ‘memes’ or images designed to humiliate victims that are then shared around their peers. When teens are being trolled by total strangers, that can take place on chat forums where victims receive menacing messages – or are excluded to a point that can be distressing for them.
But there is also a difference between the way girls and boys are trolled.
The recent report found that girls are more likely to be exposed to online hate and are more worried and affected by it, while boys are more likely to see their friends sharing nasty messages and offensive humour.
Fossi says there’s also often a difference where boys and girls are trolled online: “Our research highlights girls tend to experience more bullying and trolling on social media and image sharing sites. For boys it tends to happen more on gaming platforms – any platform with a multiplayer functionality.”
For boys, the main problem area is online platforms with multiplayer functionality, such as PS4 where they can play against strangers and interact with them on chat platforms.
With girls, trolling can occur on platforms where they feel comfortable such as Facebook and Instagram, where they can receive nasty comments on photographs they’ve posted.
The problem is ingrained in social media use and Fossi thinks this is the bigger issue. Children are so used to seeing celebrities and high-profile people being trolled online that they’re simply emulating what they’ve come to view as normal.
“Children are following the celebrities and seeing the messages they’re getting and it can seem as though this type of behaviour is normalised,” she says, pointing out they also copy the ‘bystander effect’ where people post comments and ‘likes’ on hateful content without really thinking about what they’re doing.
This can be incredibly upsetting for adults receiving these messages – but for children it’s far worse.
“The fact that it’s online and a number of people can see these messages, the impact it can have can be pretty devastating,” says Fossi. “All types of bullying is difficult for children but when it happens online it can feel like there’s no escape.”
She thinks the best way to tackle trolling targeted at children is to make sure parents, teachers and anyone else who works directly with kids speaks to them about it: “We want everyone involved with children to have regular conversations with them about what they’re doing online so children are more likely to divulge experiences they’re having.”
Gardner stresses it’s important for children to be aware of what constitutes healthy and unhealthy behaviour online so they can take action and report online abuse to social media platforms, and even the authorities if necessary.
But he says that young witnesses can also play a part: “If you see someone who’s being targeted, send them a message. People can feel very lonely if they’re being targeted this way.”
A positive message of support could give someone the confidence to report a troll – or simply talk to their parents about what’s happening to them via their smartphone.
If you have been affected by any issues in this article, call Samaritans on 116 123
What is meant by the phrase trolling is so rife?
Why do you think it is so easy for trolling to happen these days?
Do you think trolling will ever be stopped?
In the section beginning The fact that… through to …if necessary, find and copy a word similar in meaning to share?
In the section beginning With girls… to …they’re doing, find and copy a word similar in meaning to copy?
How might it feel to be a victim of trolls?
How much trolling is committed by people the victims know?
Why do you think the word troll has been chosen to represent the people who bully online?