Over a quarter of young people say they have bullied or insulted someone else online, according to a study published today.
Research from the thinktank Demos found that boys are significantly more likely to have bullied someone online than girls, but young people with “stronger traits of empathy and self-control” are less likely to cyberbully.
Demos surveyed 668 16- to 18-year-olds over Facebook on their online behaviour and responses to various social media scenarios, and held focus groups with 40 teenagers in London and Birmingham.
The thinktank found a “shockingly high incidence of hostile behaviour to peers”, with 26 per cent of those surveyed admitting to having “bullied or insulted someone else” online.
And 15 per cent of the young people surveyed said they had “joined in with other people to ‘troll’ a celebrity or public figure”.
Demos found that boys are significantly more likely to say they have bullied or insulted someone online than girls, with 32 per cent of boys saying they have compared to 22 per cent of girls.
The same applies for trolling a public figure, which 22 per of boys but 10 per cent of girls admitted they had done.
Demos’ focus groups found that young people were often drawn into cyberbullying because they are aware that their friends can see they are being bullied or insulted online and feel compelled to respond in an aggressive way.
The survey found that 93 per cent of those who said they had insulted or bullied someone else online said that they had themselves experienced some form of cyberbullying or abuse.
More positively, 88 per cent of the teenagers surveyed said they had given emotional support to a friend on social networking sites.
Demos said its research showed that young people’s character – the personal traits, values and skills that guide their conduct – influenced their willingness to engage in positive or negative behaviour online.
Young people who admitted to engaging in risky or unethical behaviour online demonstrated lower levels of moral sensitivity to others, while those with empathy and self-control were less likely to bully over social media.
The thinktank said the Department for Education should rejuvenate its character agenda through a third round of character education grants focused on developing good character online.
However, Peter Harrison-Evans, a researcher at Demos, warned against barring young people from social media.
“We caution against an overly restrictive response, not least because this can be counterproductive – encouraging more covert risk behaviour or limiting engagement in the positive aspects of social media,” he said.