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The Experiences of 11-16 year olds on social networking sites

Research from 2010 showed that in one year alone, 13 per cent of UK children aged 9-16 experienced something on the internet as a whole which upset or worried them. This new research shows that over one in four children aged 11-16 with a profile on a social networking site have experienced something upsetting on it in the last year (28 per cent), and of those who were upset, 11 per cent were dealing with this on a daily basis. While most children recovered quickly from their experience, some took weeks or months to get over it.

Children experienced a wide range of upsetting things. The most common upsetting experience was ‘trolling’ (defined as ‘unkind comments or rumours
circulated online’). However, a significant minority had received sexual messages, been encouraged to self-harm, or subjected to language which was violent or aggressive
.
Over half of 11-16 year olds (58 per cent) believed at least one of the people responsible for the behaviour which had upset or bothered them was either a complete stranger, someone they only knew online, or they did not know who it was at all.

Our research also asked children what strategies they used to deal with upsetting experiences on social networking sites. Children in the UK seemed unable to voice their concerns effectively. Only 22 per cent of the children who were upset talked with someone else face to face about the experience.

The report also found some key differences between the experiences of boys and girls. More girls than boys had an upsetting experience (32 per cent compared to 24 per cent), but boys who were upset were twice as likely as girls to feel this way every day (16 per cent versus 8 per cent). Boys were more likely to say that at least one of the people responsible for the experience was a complete stranger, someone they only knew online, or they did not know who it was at all.

There is more that can be done by social networking sites themselves to ensure that their young users are safe online and that privacy and reporting
mechanisms are easy for children to use. Selfregulation at EU level is proving slow, with no imminent prospect of progress. We therefore see a larger role for UK based agencies in ensuring that sites keep children as safe as possible. In particular, we are calling on the UKCCIS Executive Board to
make tackling the risks that children experience on social networking sites a priority issue.