How to help young people deal with negative or hateful comments online

Internet Matters’ experts share tips on helping children and young people deal with receiving negative or hateful comments online.

Will Gardner

Director, UK Safer Internet Centre, coordinators of Safer Internet Day and CEO, Childnet
Expert Website

The online world can be a great place for discussion and sharing different opinions. However, if a child is receiving negative or hateful comments online, here are some key things they can do:

  • Don’t retaliate or reply.
  • Screenshot and keep the evidence: This means that if the comments get deleted, disappear, or are within a private chat then you can still report them.
  • Report the behaviour: This can be to the social media site it is on, for instance, or by talking to someone about it (such as a parent or carer).
  • Speak to someone: This could be your parents or carers, a teacher, a friend or a helpline such as Childline or The Mix.
  • Block the person: To stop them making contact, you can block the person who is making negative comments. This will stop them being able to send friend, follow or message requests and mean that you see no further posts or comments from them.
  • Look out for your friends: If you see your friends online having negative experiences online, why not speak to them and help them to get the support they need?

John Carr

Online Safety Expert
Expert Website

Trolls post messages on public interactive forums. They will often, not always, post anonymously or use a false name.

Realistically there are two definitions of “trolling”. Both are important and in both instances the behaviour described is unkind and unacceptable.

The first definition describes a troll as anyone who, typically for their own twisted amusement, uses an interactive online forum deliberately to post messages intended to provoke or upset someone or a group of people. The perpetrator might try to convince themselves and their friends it’s just a joke, but to victims it is anything but, particularly if what is going on becomes known all around school.

Alternatively, trolling is where someone, either alone or as part of a group, again in a public forum, intentionally attacks an individual in an unusually horrible, threatening, aggressive or highly personal way.

Attacks on prominent people because of the colour of their skin, country of origin or religion, their sexuality or political beliefs, or on a person who has bravely spoken out on a subject, is the kind of trolling with which we are sadly very familiar. Many women in public life have suffered in that way. In some instances, this has caused them to step down and it has discouraged other women from coming forward.

In all cases the answer is the same. If a post makes you feel uncomfortable, do not respond. Do not engage. It will only encourage a troll to carry on. Tell your parents or teacher, block the person posting and report it to the platform concerned. If you are really worried about a threat of violence or theft, the police should be informed.

Some trolls are part of highly organized groups with a political or social agenda which they hope to advance by trolling. They believe it will help them find and recruit new people to their cause.

With the first type of trolling, the perpetrator may well be known to the victim but that just makes it worse, not better. If you think it’s someone at school, perhaps a teacher or other responsible adult could mediate to stop repeat attacks but, as stated, the perpetrator should always be blocked straight away if the message is upsetting.

Trolling is different from cyber stalking or harassment because they usually happen via direct messaging, one on one, although the intentions are often the same: to hurt, upset or provoke.