Alarming new research has revealed the full extent of online bullying and the damage it causes amongst young people.
A third of young people have been victims of online abuse in the past six months, with vicious attacks made not only on their appearance, but also on the grounds of their religion or race.
The results showing that kind of bullying, when sustained, results in teenagers losing confidence. The damaging effects are compounded as more than two thirds of the 2,000 youngsters polled, said they receive the abusive messages from someone they know, making them more personal. Almost half said they kept the attacks secret.
Despite this, one in ten of those interviewed by youth charity vInspired admitted to trolling, with a quarter saying they find it funny and almost a third (29%) saying they do it because their friends do so too.
Trolling has come to mean any kind of online bullying that targets another person, but has garnered particular attention for the kind of vicious abuse spouted when the troller can remain anonymous.
One case involved the online RIP page for teenager Natasha MacBryde, 15, who died under a train on Valentine’s Day. The next day comments were posted on her Facebook page including “I fell asleep on the track lolz”.
Days later a YouTube video was created called “Tasha the Tank Engine” featuring her face on a picture of Thomas the Tank Engine. Her grieving parents were distraught by the posting.
Sean Duffy, 25, from Reading, Berkshire, was jailed for posting videos and messages mocking the deaths of teenagers including Natasha. In court it was claimed Duffy is an alcoholic, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome.
Celebrities have often used their impressive Twitter followings to highlight the kind of racist, targeted and personal abuse they receive.
Olympic diver Tom Daly provoked a wave of sympathetic outrage during the summer after retweeting one insult he received during London 2012.
Daley's father, Rob, died in 2011 from brain cancer.
A 17-year-old was arrested in Weymouth after the malicious tweets were sent. However he was spared jail.
Another particularly sad case came after Australia's Next Top Model judge, anti-bullying campaigner and former model Charlotte Dawson was hospitalized in Sydney following an apparent suicide attempt that came after weeks of abuse on Twitter.
She was told to go stick her head in a toaster, to hang herself, jeered at for being 'barren' and even sent pictures of dead bodies.
Despite the documented damage such abuse causes, many still think police resources are wasted on catching trolls.
Officers were ridiculed for arresting Tom Daly's Twitter troll and campaign groups and experts from Oxford University said the punishments are heavier than in other countries, according to a report by the BBC.
VInspired is launching a new campaign - Lolz not Trolls - to tackle the problem.
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."
vInspired has also created a ‘Trolling under the Bridge’ experience at Waterloo’s IMAX underpass to show people the real effect that negative messages can have on people.
On 22nd February, displays of real life trolling messages will be projected and written on the walls of the underpass and people’s mood and response to these being measured to show the impact these do have.
Emma-Jane Cross, CEO and founder of BeatBullying said it was important not to ignore the 'devastating' effect of trolling, adding it was important to educate youngsters: “We need to take consistent action when incidents of virtual violence occur, and work with young people to educate them about what is acceptable behaviour online.
“We also need to offer support to those affected by trolling and cyberbullying. We encourage any young person affected to visit BeatBullying.org, a place where they can talk about any issues to someone their own age in a safe online environment.”
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."
The Association of the Chief of Police officers encourages anyone who feels they have been a victim of internet bullying or harassment to report abuse to their local police force.
You can also access vInspired's guide from the campaign Facebook page (www.facebook.com/DoSomethingUK) where youngsters are also encouraged to sign up and take a ‘pledge’ to ensure they use social media correctly:Suggest a correction