Trolling is a form of cyberbullying, but trolling in particular is used to irritate communities, fans of celebrity targets or people who hold specific beliefs. The seemingly anonymous nature of the internet allows trolls to operate without fear of punishment.

Trolling is defined by Urban Dictionary as : The deliberate act, (by a Troll – noun or adjective), of making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments online to provoke a reaction or to start a fight or argument.

What You Need to Know

Research completed by youth charity vInspired found:

  • 1 in 3 young people aged 14-18 received offensive online comments
  • 1 in 10 have ‘trolled’ someone

  • 1 in 3 young people were the subject of trolling in the last six months – and 1 in 4 are affected by it regularly
  • 40% of offensive online comments by ‘trolls’ are about the victim’s appearance and 16% are about their religion or race

Internet trolls who target people with abusive or offensive material online can be prosecuted
under the
Malicious Communications Act 1988 and face a up to 2 years in prison if convicted.

The Effects of Trolling on Children and Young People

Research conducted in 2018 for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) found the following impacts of trolling:

  • Psychological impacts such as increased emotional distress and embarrassment, including symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Behavioural impacts including substance abuse, withdrawal from social life, detrimental impacts on personal relationships and in extreme cases, self harm behaviours and suicidal ideation

There is evidence that the impact of trolling on victims’ behaviour is linked to their perception of the troll.
Victims who perceived the troll as a nuisance (lacking in power over the victim) rather than a direct threat are less impacted by trolling behaviour.

How to Talk to Children and Young People About Trolling

It is important that you know how to approach the subject of trolling if young people in your care are the victim or the perpetrator of trolling. Supporting a child to overcome bullying can help build their resilience.

If a child or young person in your care is the victim of trolling: 

  • Check how the young person is feeling about what has happened

  • Make sure they know that bullying is wrong and that it’s not their fault 

  • Teach them to resist their temptation to engage with a troll, and explain that interacting with trolls will encourage them to continue

  • Make sure that all social media profiles are not publicly accessible, and that your child only accepts friend requests from people they know

  • Teach them how to block and report accounts and posts on whichever social media platform they are using. Remember the importance of reporting inappropriate behaviour online so the platform in question can take action

  • Check out our videos below to see how to block and report on Twitter

Block a user on Twitter

Report a user on Twitter

Report a Tweet on Desktop

View more on our safety centre

If a child or young person in your care is trolling someone:

  • Do not get angry with them. The vast majority of young people consider trolling ‘a bit of fun’ and might not fully understand the impact of their behaviour. For more information on online risks for children and young people, check out our video here

  • This is a perfect opportunity to talk to your child about the impact bullying can have on others, asking them to consider how they would feel if someone was bullying a friend or family member

  • Explain that anonymity online is limited, social media platforms can and do work with police to identify users involved in online harassment

  • It is also important to remind young people that internet trolls who target people with abusive or offensive material online may get into trouble with the law

Trolling and cyberbullying remain a persistent problem in the online world, so it’s important to take active steps to educate and protect yourself so that you can protect the children and young people in your care. 

For more information and support, check out Action for Children.

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