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3 October 2017
By Rebecca Avery

Demos study finds that a quarter of young people have bullied or insulted someone online #esafety

A report based on a 9 month mapping period involving 668 16-to-18 year olds, published on the 2nd October 2017 think-tank Demos found:
  • 26 per cent of the 16-18 year olds surveyed say they have ‘bullied or insulted someone else’ online
  • 15 per cent of the young people surveyed said they had ‘joined in with other people to “troll” a celebrity or public figure
  • Boys are significantly more likely to say they have bullied or insulted someone online than girls (32 per cent compared with 22 per cent) or ‘trolled’ a public figure (22 per cent compared with 10 per cent)
  • 93 per cent of those who said they had insulted or bullied someone else online, said that they had themselves experienced some form of cyber-bullying or abuse
  • 88 per cent of the teenagers surveyed had given emotional support to someone online
  • Just over half  of young people surveyed (51 per cent) have posted about ‘a political or social cause that they care about’
  • Young people with stronger traits of empathy and self-control are considerably less likely to engage in cyberbullying
During focus groups which took place with 40 16–18-year-olds in Birmingham and London, Demos found that young people are often drawn into cyberbullying because they are aware that their friends can see they are being bullied or insulted online, which leaves them compelled to respond in an aggressive way. Although the research found that many young people were aware of the moral implications of behaviour on social media, many young people said they would not take any action if they saw someone they knew being bullied online. The report found that school staff have generally been proactive in responding to emerging risks from online social networking, with over 80 per cent young people surveyed saying that that they had received some form of guidance at school. However the report stated that it was unclear how effective  this guidance was. Several of the young people involved in the focus groups voiced their dissatisfaction with or disinterest in the guidance that they had received in school:
  • Yeah because teachers aren’t the same age as us, so they don’t really understand how to use [social media]. And a lot of kids in school don’t listen to their teachers.
  • It’s just constant; block it, ignore it. That’s what they teach you, but that’s like… Well, it’s like teaching a human how to walk, like it’s just straightforward.
  • Yeah, sometimes they show cheesy videos as well, what happens. Those really tacky videos. Yeah, it’s a bit cringe, yeah.


Alongside recommendations for Government, parents and social media companies, the report recommended that schools should:
  • deliver Digital Citizenship education which contains a strong emphasis on the moral implications of online social networking, with a focus on participatory approaches which seek to develop students’ moral and ethical sensitivity.
    • A focus on digital citizenship rather than solely focusing on 'risk' and 'safety' is likely to have a more beneficial impact in the long term. Such approaches could include:
      • structured opportunities for personal and group reflection;
      • peer-led learning and mentoring;
      • consideration and discussion of moral issues;
      • involvement of parents, guardians and families.
        • Links to classroom materials (inlcuding some of those featured in the report) can be accessed on Kelsi.
        • The UKCCIS Education group have recently published a consultation document reagrding the use of external visitors to support online safety education.
  • develop school-home links around digital citizenship, supporting parents to close the 'digital literacy gap' and develop effective parental mediation approaches.
    • The report identifies that the home is crucial for developing young people's good character, however it recognises that there is a mismatch in knowledge and attitudes towards social media between parents and children. This means many parents feel unable to effectively mediate their children’s online behaviour.
    • Schools could provide support to parents, to raise their levels of digital literacy and  to help them adopt mediation approaches that engage positively with social media.
      • Suggestions for schools regarding engaging families in online safety can be accessed on Kelsi.
Commenting on the findings, the report’s author, Peter Harrison-Evans, Researcher at Demos said: 'Our findings show that online social networking can clearly facilitate risky or negative behaviours among a substantial minority of young people. Despite this, we caution against an overly restrictive response, not least because this can be counterproductive – encouraging more covert risky behaviour or limiting engagement in the positive aspects of social media, such as relationship building, and political and civic engagement. This research also shows the links between character traits such as empathy and self-control, and how young people think and act on social media . It’s here that we feel policy-makers, 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.' The full report can be accessed here