The NSPCC wants the government to act on cyberbullying after the number of children seeking counselling for online abuse doubled over the last five years.
Its Childline service delivered 5,103 counselling sessions to children suffering from online abuse in 2016/17, up from 2,410 in 2011/12 and 12 per cent more than the 4,541 delivered in 2015/16.
The figures show that girls aged between 12 and 15 are the most susceptible, but the charity said children as young as nine had contacted it for help.
It has now asked the government to “draw up a rulebook enshrined in law” that would require social media companies to introduce regulations to prevent online bullying.
These rules include cyberbullying alerts, which flag bad behaviour to moderators and send notifications to young people being targeted, as well as stricter default privacy settings, clearer reporting processes and specially trained child-safety moderators.
Online communities that young people operate in are spaces of independence
However, the think-tank Demos is not in favour of overregulating social media and argued that the focus should be on developing positive character traits in young people to dissuade them from acting in negative ways online.
Its report, ‘The moral web’, was published in October and suggests that the government reinvigorate its “character agenda” in schools, and introduce “digital citizenship” to help young people develop the necessary traits to establish right from wrong on social media.
The study, which focused on why 16- to 18-year-olds act the way they do online, argues that more time is needed to develop the “moral sensitivity” of teenagers through citizenship studies in school, particularly boys, who were found to be more likely to engage in negative or passive behaviours.
It also wants schools to do more to help parents become more digitally literate and able to engage with social media, and for providers such as Facebook and Twitter to develop ways of “disseminating information that supports good character online”.
One of the authors of the report, Peter Harrison-Evans, told Schools Week that developing particular characteristics like empathy would help young people make the right decisions, and said schools should work with students to establish correct online behaviour and draw on their “expertise” of the world of social media.
“Online communities that young people operate in are spaces of independence in a world where a lot of aspects of their lives are highly regulated,” he said. “Over-intrusion from parents or teachers into that world could just be counterproductive.”