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The threat of "trolling" is forcing young people to self-censor, holding back the development of the internet, experts warn as the latest survey highlighting the extent of online abuse.
To coincide with Safer Internet Day, a survey shows that almost a quarter of young people (24 percent) in the U.K. have been the target of online abuse in the last year.
In addition, 82 percent said they had witnessed online hatred, such as seeing offensive or threatening behaviour directed at someone based on their race, religion, gender or sexuality, according to the online survey by ResearchBods of 1500 young people aged 13 to 18.
As a result of internet hatred, many young people are self-censoring what they say online: 74 percent said that online abuse makes them more careful about sharing things on the internet
"We were surprised and concerned to see that so many had been exposed to online hate in the last year," said Will Gardner, a director of the U.K. Safer Internet Centre, which commissioned the survey, and chief executive of Childnet, in a press release.
"It is a wake-up call for all of us to play our part in helping create a better internet for all, to ensure that everyone can benefit from the opportunities that technology provides."
Online hatred, abuse and "trolling" (saying things to deliberately upset or create conflict on the internet) can be deeply painful.
Juliette Prais, CEO and director of Pink Lobster Dating, and her partner Emma Ziff, have been subject to homophobic abuse on Twitter and were subjected to "trolling" when an article about their relationship received hundreds of abusive comments from "trolls" after it was published online by a British newspaper.
Prais told CNBC via email that the comments were offensive.
"The consequences of the trolling on the Telegraph article were twofold. For one it was shocking, disgusting and upsetting to read what people thought about us and even made me paranoid about my weight, which has never been an issue to me previously," Prais told CNBC via email. "Secondly, I was deeply concerned how the comments could affect other people who were perhaps in the closet or concerned about their sexuality.
"Whilst we are both strong, confident women, we were deeply affected by the comments and Emma refuses to read them," she added.
Safer Internet Day is being celebrated in more than 100 countries around the world in order to create a kinder online community and encourage the safe use of technology.
One suggestion to create a safer internet is raise awareness about reporting harassment. According to the survey, while 68 percent of young people knew how to report abuse to a social network, only 20 percent actually reported it.
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