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Trolling 'affects one in three'

A third of young people aged between 14 and 18 have been the victims of online abuse in the past six months but research by a youth charity has found that as many as one in 10 say they carry out trolling attacks.

More than a quarter (27%) of those questioned said they are the subject of regular attacks, with the majority of the messages being criticism of the victim's appearance (40%) or about their religion or race (16%), with Facebook the most common place for victims to be trolled.

Sustained abuse is resulting in almost a third (29%) of those questioned losing confidence in themselves, but despite the detrimental effect, nearly a quarter (23%) admit they find trolling funny and almost a third (29%) say they do it because their friends do so too.

The research was carried out by youth volunteering charity vInspired, which is launching a new campaign - Lolz not Trolls - to tackle the problem.

With the backing of celebrities including reality TV star Lauren Goodger, presenter Caroline Flack and singer Delilah, the campaign gives young people the opportunity to make a positive pledge not to troll. It will give teenagers information on appropriate online behaviour by following a set of "netiquette" guidelines, with the aim of making social media channels a happier, safer place.

Of the 2,000 youngsters polled about the issue, more than two thirds (67%) said they receive the abusive messages from someone they know with almost half (47%) saying they keep the attacks secret.

The research showed evidence of a "digital disconnection" about trolling, with nearly one in five (18%) thinking messages sent in cyberspace are less damaging than insults hurled face to face and nearly half (49%) believing it is ok to say things online that you would not in person.

Professor Mark Griffiths, a social media expert who is working with vInspired on the campaign, said the phenomenon is growing as more youngsters grow up in the digital world. He said: "The ability to remain anonymous online can lead to people saying what they may not in person over social networking channels. 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."

He has helped create a downloadable guide of dos and don'ts for using social media, which is available from the campaign's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/DoSomethingUK.

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."

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