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Hostile online behaviour common in young people, study shows

05/10/2017 Joanna

A large proportion of young people are getting involved in bullying or insulting behaviour online, according to a new study.

Research from the thinktank Demos has surveyed 668 16 to 18-year-olds via Facebook, finding that 26 per cent of young people have bullied or insulted someone online, while 15 per cent have been involved with trolling a public figure.

Boys were shown to be significantly more likely to take part in this kind of hostile behaviour than girls, with many participating due to the fact that any abuse they receive is publicly viewable, making them feel compelled to respond in an aggressive way.

Conversely, the survey also showed that 88 per cent of young people have given emotional support to a friend on social networking sites, while 51 per cent have posted about a political or social cause that they care about.

Although some of the figures suggest a cause for concern, the report cautioned against teachers and other authority figures taking an overly restrictive response in trying to curtail social media use, as this can result in more covert risky behaviour, or depriving the individual from experiencing the more positive aspects of social media. Instead, a focus on building empathy and self-control among students may be a more productive avenue.

Peter Harrison-Evans, researcher at Demos, said: "It's here that we feel policymakers, schools and parents can make the biggest difference - empowering young people to make a positive contribution to their online communities by building their social digital skills and increasing their online moral sensitivity."

As such, Demos has called for the Department for Education to place a renewed focus on initiatives that build moral character and digital citizenship, allowing schools to give their students a strong grounding in the moral implications of online social networking.

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