23/01/2014 06:40 GMT | Updated 24/03/2014 05:59 GMT

The Truth About Trolling

Hot on the heels of the news that two people have pleaded guilty to sending "menacing" tweets to feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez in July 2013, I have decided to review the latest statistics on UK social media bullying from Harris Interactive's SocialLife tracker*, to find out exactly what the online bullying landscape looks like in the UK.

The results make for interesting reading and suggest that more can and should be done to contain this practice, including making reporting procedures simpler and ensuring a swift response when abuse is reported.

The survey reveals that one in twelve (8%) of all UK social media users have suffered harassment, more commonly known as 'trolling', in some form or other. The incidence rises alarmingly among more vulnerable, younger users, peaking at almost one in five (18%) 16-24 year old females. Those who use niche sites like (the anonymous site that featured in a number of trolling stories itself in 2013), Tumblr, Pinterest and even Mumsnet are most likely to be bullied in this way. Other demographics are much less affected by social media bullying, with zero incidences reported by men aged 65+ for example.

So what type of harassment is taking place? Are we talking about relatively innocuous teasing from friends and family or something altogether more sinister? It would appear that most social media harassment reported in the survey is sufficiently serious to warrant action on the part of the abused user, with just over one in eight people (12%) saying that they did nothing about it. The most common reaction is to block the abuser (65% overall and 71% among women) and, interestingly, over one in ten (15%) admitted they had retaliated by abusing back the person behind the trolling. One in five men (19%) are relatively more likely to abuse back.

Only a third (35%) reported incidences of abuse to the site they were abused on, with half of those who did not do so saying they would have done if they had known how to, or if the reporting process had been easier (50%). This figure rises to over half (57%) of all females who did not report the abuse and over three quarters (77%) of 11-15 year olds.

Facebook is the site where social media users are most likely to have suffered harassment or abuse - reflecting its much higher usage than other social media sites. Nearly two thirds (74%) have experienced this type of activity on Facebook with Twitter next at 12% and then YouTube at 9%.

Facebook recently rolled out a 'bullying prevention hub' in early November 2013, which offers guidance to teens on dealing with online harassment, and it would seem that this is a timely intervention. But this problem is clearly not limited to the larger social networks like Facebook and Twitter, or indeed to younger users, so other sites should also be looking closely at these numbers to hopefully improve the UK wide issue of online harassment.

*SocialLife is Harris Interactive's quarterly tracker of UK social media use. 5,517 nationally representative online UK citizens aged 11-95 years were interviewed during September - October, 2013.