Communicate: trolling, bullying and abusive behaviour

Trolling (15%) and bullying, abusive behaviour or threats (8%) account for 23% of the potential risks encountered by UK internet users aged 13+ (Ofcom, 2022). Understanding how the platform works can help children and young people reduce the likelihood of this potential risk by managing whose messages and posts they see, and how to mute or block people who may be trolling, bullying or abusing them.

back to Communicate

cyber toolkit communicate

“It is important not to get too hung up on the fact that your child has experienced bullying online, but to recognise that they have been bullied and need the same support as they would if they had experienced any other type of bullying. Take their concerns seriously, remain calm, and consider what they would like to happen.” Respect Me


This guidance aims to support teachers educate learners about the control they have over devices and accounts and how this knowledge can reduce contact, block unwanted communication or report abusive behaviour. 

Internet safety risks and considerations


In order to communicate with others online, learners usually need access to:

  • an internet-enabled device
  • apps to communicate – this may include the device’s own messaging, calls or video calls (FaceTime) apps, as well as the most common additional messaging apps WhatsApp and Snapchat
  • someone else to communicate with

When supporting learners with this area, it is important to consider who controls their access to these opportunities and resources:

  • Is there a risk of this occurring in school?
  • How is that enabled?
  • Are there steps that could be taken to reduce the risk of this?

If it is an out-of-school risk:

  • How can the school support with this?
  • Is support required for families or learners?
  • Who can support with this: Community Learning and Development or Police Scotland?
Potential risks

Being more cyber resilient reduces the risk of internet safety issues arising. We all want the internet to be a more welcoming space for children and young people and that is why we promote this positive message of safe, smart and kind.

Topics to explore with learners might include are:

  • the people they communicate with – groups or individually
  • the platforms they communicate on – impact of device or context
  • types of content they might share – risk of inappropriate content
  • the risks of sharing created content
  • the law about online communications – Communications Act 2003
  • the potential risks, and associated harms, the same for everyone – why are they different, and why does this matter?

Cyber resilience guidance


The first potential vulnerability when communicating online is the device not being securely setup.

Check with learners that they have taken these steps to reduce the risk of someone accessing and communicating with their device without permission:

  • screenlock that requires a passcode or biometric (face or fingerprint) to log in to stop unauthorised access (hacking)
  • apple devices have a content filter, called communication safety in Messages, in their ‘screen time’ settings that blocks potentially nude content from children’s phones

Another potential vulnerability when communicating online is the accounts on the device or online platform not being secure enough and allowing others to use their device or contact them.

Check with learners that they have taken these steps on their apps to reduce the risk unwanted contact:

  • they use device or platform security features, inlcuding password, biometrics or 2FA to ensure only they can access it
  • they know how to use the settings and security features to set the platform up to only share information they are willing to share – this can reduce their ‘visibility’ and potentially reduce the chances of unwanted contact
  • they can use the settings and security settings to control who is able to contact them, see/reply to their posts or direct message them on the platform



How to block and report contacts


How do I change my privacy settings on Snapchat?

How to Remove a Friend


Block unwanted callers in FaceTime on iPhone

Report and support

When using devices or online platforms to communicate, learners should understand that online platforms and services, including apps, carry greater risk of being shared without permission as the messages and content on these is almost always stored on their server, which is the company’s computer, and not the child or young person’s device.

Should created content ever be shared with, or without, permission then learners should have the knowledge, skills and support to report and recover from the potential risks associated with this:

ANY communication that contains content that depicts child sexual abuse MUST be reported to the police or CEOP


How to block and report contacts



How To Report A Snap

Snapchat Reporting Quick Guide

Adults can report concerns about unwanted contact to NSPCC

Children and young people can report concerns about unwanted contact to Childline

Leave a Reply