The number of children receiving counselling over cyberbullying has more than doubled in five years, prompting the NSPCC to call on ministers to put pressure on social media sites to do more to protect children from online abuse.
Children as young as nine have contacted the NSPCC’s Childline complaining of being tormented by name-calling, blackmail and death threats posted publicly on social media profiles and blogs. Others have complained of rumours being spread about them online.
One boy told Childline: “I’m being bullied on social media by people who call me fat and ugly. I can’t block them because then they’ll just bully me even more at school. I don’t want to talk to my teachers about it, I just feel like giving up. I’ve been self-harming to cope but I just want to stop feeling this way.”
Childline delivered 5,103 counselling sessions to children affected by cyberbullying in 2016/17, up 12% from 4,541 the year before and 2,410 in 2011/12.
Girls between 12 and 15 are the most likely to seek help.
The 24/7 nature of social media means children are unable to find respite at home, with potential consequences for their mental health. Of the counselling sessions delivered by Childline, 14% of children were 11 and under, 50% were 12-15 and 15% were 16-18.
A 16-year-old boy told Childline: “They’re spreading rumours about me and telling me that I should just die. This has been going on for months but recently they made a Facebook account using my name and it’s getting loads worse. I feel so down all the time, I just want it to stop.”
A girl, aged 14, said she was being bullied by a girl at school: “She has taken photos of me and posted them on Snapchat calling me fat and ugly and how I will never have a boyfriend. I have been having suicidal thoughts as this girl is really popular and she has turned my whole year against me.”
Last month the government released its internet safety green paper, which proposed a voluntary levy on internet companies such as Google and Facebook to pay for measures to combat and raise awareness about online bullying, as well as a voluntary code of conduct.
The NSPCC calls for the introduction of a rulebook enshrined in law that will require social media sites to protect children from online abuse. It also wants social media companies to introduce cyberbullying alerts to flag bullying behaviour to moderators.
The charity says there also needs to be strict privacy settings by default, clear and easy to understand reporting processes, and specially trained child safety moderators.
Advice on what to do if you, or someone you know, is experiencing cyber bullying can be found here.
If you need to contact Childline for any reason, you can call them on 0800 1111; or visit childline.org.uk.