Abusive comments are one of the main causes of upset for young people online

Published:  Thu 21 Jun 2018

A report published today (Thursday 21 June 2018) by SWGfL - one of the partners in the UK Safer Internet Centre, along with Childnet and the Internet Watch Foundation – shows that many young people said “Abusive comments from peers” is one of the main things to cause them to get upset when online.

The report into ‘what causes young people upset online’ is the second in a series, titled Young People, Internet Use and Wellbeing in the UK. Compiled by Professor Andy Phippen from Plymouth University, the series explores the role of technology on young people’s wellbeing. Each report in the series will have a specific area of focus, such as gender, age differences, and what harmful content means to young people. It assesses data provided by more than 8,200 young people from the age of 9 – 18 across 100 schools in the UK.

Key findings


The key findings from this analysis centre on what “upset” means for children and young people going online and challenges our strategies to protect them from this upset. What causes upset is broad and variable, depending upon both gender and age of respondents.

In general, upset is most commonly caused by:

  • Abusive comments from peers and others they interact with online
  • Stories in the news and media that can be upsetting (for example, terrorist incidents, child suffering, and natural disasters)
  • Animal abuse – videos that show animal cruelty, images of harm to animals, upsetting stories related to animals, etc.
  • Upsetting content, such as shocking videos produced by YouTubers, content showing people being hurt, acts of self-harm, etc.

This research raises further questions around what motivates young people’s online behaviours, and it is clear that this is an area that requires further research. Over the coming years SWGfL, as part of its work as a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre, will be working with HeadStart Kernow to explore the subject, as well as the social and emotional impacts of the online world, in order to inform future support for schools, families and communities.

Andy Phippen, Professor of Social Responsibility in IT at the University of Plymouth, said:

“What is clear from these findings is that we need to develop critical thinking and digital literacy that goes beyond whether content is “good” or “bad” and explore how it makes people feel and how we might counteract how upset is caused.

“We need to move beyond “online safety” to better understand how we develop resilience in young people so they can deal with what they see and do online, rather than hoping they avoid it completely.”

David Wright, Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre at SWGfL, said:

“We have seen over recent months that some aspects of being online is having a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of children and young people. 

“This report clearly highlights that while there are clear “online” elements here, they go beyond protecting young people from online issues. Just as in the offline world, some things cause distress or upset, and we need to help equip young people with the strategies they need to deal with this as they grow up."

To read the full report, click here

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