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An investigation into the representation of cyberbullying in the British press: A case study of the Daily Mail

 An investigation into the representation of cyberbullying in the British press: A case study of the Daily Mail


Julia Conway

May 2016

Supervisor: Dr Hayes Mabweazara FHEA

 Dissertation submitted to Falmouth University in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of BA (Hons) Journalism


Word count: 8540


As digital technologies and the internet have advanced, many aspects of our daily lives have changed. We are increasingly reliant on the cyber world in work, education and in our social lives. In hand with this, practically every traditional crime has spawned a cyber equivalent. This critical study explores the subject of cyberbullying using theoretical studies and statistical evidence to define the subject and its far-reaching consequences. In order to define the representation of cyberbullying within the British press, a qualitative research study was undertaken to examine four texts from the Daily Mail. Critical discourse analysis was applied to four sample stories to identify themes and expand our understanding of cyberbullying. The findings show that despite the seriousness of the cyberbullying situation, writers are keen to show the trolls up for what they are; mad, sad and bad miscreant cowards. This is achieved through humour, mockery and a variety of literary devices. In conclusion it is recognised that cyberbullying is a pandemic problem and will be around for the foreseeable future as one more generation after another are affected. With that in mind, other solutions are sought and include some innovative suggestions that may lead to some resolution.





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS                                                                      i


1         INTRODUCTION                                                                       1

1.1       Context of the study                                                                  1

1.2       Aims and objectives                                                                  2

1.3       Structure of the dissertation                                                   3

2        LITERATURE REVIEW                                                            4

2.1       Introduction                                                                               4

2.2       What is cyberbullying?                                                            4

2.3       The problems of defining cyberbullying                              4

2.4       Types of cyberbullying                                                             5

2.5       The troll: playful or malicious?                                              6

2.6       The extent and cost of cyberbullying in UK schools         7

2.7       anti-bullying policies                                                               8

2.8       Laws that cover cyberbullying                                               9

2.9       Moral panic or freedom of speech?                                      9

2.10     Summary of the literature review                                         10

3        METHODOLOGY                                                                       11

3.1       Introduction                                                                               11

3.2       Critical discourse Analysis (CDA)                                         11

3.3       Sample of Stories                                                                      12

3.4       Ethical considerations                                                             12

3.5       Summary of the methodology                                                13

4        FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION                                               14

4.1       Case study 1

4.1.1    Synopsis of the text                                                                   14

4.1.2    Text analysis                                                                              15

4.2       Case study 2

4.2.1    Synopsis of the text                                                                  17

4.2.2    Text analysis                                                                             18

4.3       Case study 3

4.3.1    Synopsis of the text                                                                  20

4.3.2    Text analysis                                                                             21

4.4       Case study 4

4.4.1    Synopsis of the text                                                                  23

4.4.2    Text analysis                                                                             24

4.5       Summary of analysis                                                               25

4.6       Discussion                                                                                 26

4.7       Other solutions to combat cyberbullying                            27

5        CONCLUSION                                                                            29

6        REFERENCES                                                                            30

7        APPENDICES                                                                             33

A         News story 1. Rachel Johnson January 20, 2013.              33

B         News story 2. Rachel Johnson October 19, 2014                34

C         News story 3.  Katie Hopkins November 24, 2015             36

D         News story 4. Sarah Vine March 23, 2016                           39



 I would like to thank my supervisor Dr Hayes Mabweazara.



 1.1     Context of the study

The development of digital technologies and the internet over the past three decades has revolutionised many aspects of our lives and had a huge impact on our society. Every aspect of our day-to-day lives, such as banking, communication, education, entertainment and even the way we do our shopping, has been permeated by the computerised, networked and virtual world. Although the internet has many positive advantages in enabling communication and commerce on a global scale, the downside is that it has provided a platform for a proliferation of repugnant crimes (cybercrime) to be committed by unknown persons operating from concealed locations. This study examines one aspect of cyber behaviour, cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is defined as, “the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group that is intended to harm others” (Shah, Muley and Dalwadi 2014: 16). A significant feature of cyberbullying is that the bully can adopt an anonymous online persona or pseudonym to target their victim. Cyberbullying itself is not currently a criminal offence in the UK, although in extreme forms such as cyber-stalking, harassment and where threats are made to other’s life there have been successful prosecutions made under other laws.

Millions of people; children and adults, have been affected by cyberbullying with many victims suffering long-term effects from stress and depression as a result of continuous or protracted campaigns against them. In some cases, people have taken their own lives because they felt they had no alternative. Stories about cyberbullying are a regular occurrence in the media, they feature in television and radio programmes and in the national press. This is an indication of the magnitude and severity of the problem.

Although people of all ages are affected by cyberbullying, the following section has focussed on the statistical information available from studies affecting children and young people. There has been an extensive amount of quantitative research in this area and less so into adult cyberbullying. As far back as 2010, The Independent newspaper summarised research conducted by the now defunct charity, Beatbullying. The research said that “nearly half of suicides among 10 to 14-year-olds are due to bullying…of 59 cases of child suicide reported in the national media between 2000 and 2008, 26 were definitely connected to bullying” (Dickinson: 2010). The report also stated that: “1,769 suicides of 15 to 19-year-olds between 2000 and 2008…indicated that the total number of bullying-related adolescent suicides could be in the hundreds” (Dickinson: 2010). Cyberbullying was also cited in the data.

1.2     Aims and objectives

This study examines how stories regarding cyberbullying are represented in the British press, specifically by the Daily Mail. This newspaper, which has around 23 million readers per month, (Ponsford: 2015) is considered to represent traditional British values. The main aim of the research is to analyse four stories concerning issues of cyberbullying as case studies. The use of qualitative language research methods will interpret how cyberbullying is represented in the British media. By learning what a reader might comprehend and interpret from these stories it will determine whether enough emphasis is made on the seriousness of cyberbullying.

A quick internet search reveals that there are a great many charities based in the UK offering support and advice about cyberbullying or involved in anti-bullying campaigns, they include; BullyingUK, ChildLine, The Cybersmile Foundation, Ditch the Label, Kidscape, The National Bullying Helpline, The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), respectme (Scotland), Parents Protect! Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), and Childnet International, to name a few. The sheer number charities and services to aid victims of cyberbullying indicate that vast numbers of people are suffering. This warrants further investigation to gain a greater understanding of how cyberbullying is portrayed and represented by the British press.

 1.3 Structure of the dissertation

Having introduced the contextual background of cyberbullying, Chapter two will look in greater detail at academic studies on the subject. There has been a great deal of research conducted into issues surrounding social media practices with regard to cyberbullying and studies into the psychological issues of bullying in general. These are summarised and clear themes within cyberbullying research are identified.

Chapter three describes the methodology chosen for this study. Critical Discourse Analysis methods are applied to stories from the Daily Mail to examine how cyberbullying is represented. Four stories were chosen for their relevance to the themes of ‘Harassment’ and ‘Outing and Trickery’ which are discussed in more detail in the next chapter. The findings and discussion section examine these representations in more detail leading to the outcomes and further discussion of the study.



 2.1     Introduction

In order to demonstrate the representation of cyberbullying within the British press, first it is necessary to outline the issues around cyberbullying more thoroughly. This chapter will clarify the various definitions of cyberbullying and highlight the extent of the problem with statistical information from quantitative research studies.

2.2     What is cyberbullying?

It has been a topic of debate between scholars for many years as to what constitutes traditional bullying. Olweus defines bullying using three criteria: “(1) it is aggressive behaviour or intentional ‘harmdoing’ (2) which is carried out repeatedly and over time (3) in an interpersonal relationship characterized by an imbalance of power” (1999: 10-11). These features of traditional bullying are equally relevant to cyberbullying. The main difference between traditional bullying and cyberbullying is the distance between victim and bully. Gillespie observes: “The internet, as a global resource, allows people who are not physically proximate to engage in harassing behaviour through, for example, facilitating the tracking and harassment of children in chat-rooms” (2006: 124). Anyone with an online profile can become a victim of cyberbullying if the simple act of posting a comment or photograph is considered provocative to the cyberbully. A person who uses a screen name for anonymity can hide behind a computer keyboard and utter things that they would not normally say face to face.

2.3     The problems of defining cyberbullying   

In 2005, at the request of the Flemish Parliament’s Commission for Culture, Youth, Sports and Media, a survey was conducted into cyberbullying. The study comprised of 2052 students aged between 10 and 18 years-old in Flanders, Belgium. The authors, Vandebosch and Van Cleemput, begin by explaining the difficulties in defining the term cyberbullying as definitions from scholars vary widely depending on which elements and characteristics are included. Defining cyberbullying is compounded because there is no general agreement on definitions of traditional bullying in order to relate the two.

Furthermore, “the specific nature of written forms of electronic communication causes problems. Email, chat and text messaging can be easily misunderstood because they contain neither the tone of the word nor eye contact” (2009: 1351). The Belgian study uncovers more about cyberbullying by asking their respondents whether they have been the victim, perpetrator or a bystander. When asked if they had been “actively or passively involved in bullying via the internet or mobile phone” 11.1% said they had been a victim, 18% said they had been perpetrators and 27.9% said they had been bystanders (2009:1361).

The research identifies that cyberbullying activity is occurring at a younger age than observed in previous studies, for both victims and perpetrators. Also of significance is that children who have been bullied are in turn becoming bullies themselves. Vandebosch and Van Cleemput observe: “This may be an indication of the existence of counter or chain reactions in cyberbullying, whereby perpetrators become victims and victims perpetrators, ultimately resulting in a culture of cyberbullying” (2011: 1368). The main recommendations are for parents to be more involved in their children’s use of the internet and for extensive awareness campaigns to aid in preventing cyberbullying.

2.4     Types of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is the term used to describe any form of bullying which takes place online. It may be facilitated using e-mail, mobile telephones, chat rooms, instant messaging, and social media sites. As noted earlier, this study focuses on two examples (cyber stalking and harassment) from the comprehensive list below. There are many forms of cyberbullying and scholars have yet to agree on a definitive description. BullyingUK, a registered charity which campaigns against bullying defines seven types of cyberbullying as:

  • Cyber Stalking – Just like physical stalking except using the internet to communicate, rather than face-to-face. This may include repeatedly sending messages to intimidate others and threats of harm which cause a person to feel afraid for their safety.
  • Denigration – Sending information about another person which is untrue, for example fake rumours and gossip. This includes photographs (genuine and photo-shopped) sent to ridicule someone.
  • Exclusion – Intentionally leaving someone out of a group of online engagement. Also called social bullying.
  • Flaming – The use of extreme and offensive language to get into online fights and arguments. It is done deliberately to cause upset and distress and pleasure is obtained by getting a reaction.
  • Harassment – The act of sending rude, insulting and offensive messages to be abusive, including nasty comments on photographs and posts. Also concerns the prolonged or repeated unwanted contact or persecution of another.
  • Impersonation – Gaining access to someone else’s email or social media accounts to use that person’s identity to post embarrassing or vicious material to others. This also includes making fake profiles on social media sites.
  • Outing and Trickery – The act of sharing someone’s personal information or tricking a person to share information which is then forwarded to others. This includes photographs and videos.

(BullyingUK ca. 2016)

In some cases of cyberbullying the victim may be known to the bully through school, work or some other social connection. In other cases, the victim may be a person in the public sphere such as a television personality, a celebrity or someone in public office. These people are usually unknown to the bully but thought of as ‘fair game’ due to their public status. It is not unusual for a cyberbully to use an assumed name to remain anonymous and avoid detection.

2.5     The troll: playful or malicious?

The word ‘troll’ is more associated with adult cyberbullying. Schwartz (2008) states: “In the late 1980s, Internet users adopted the word “troll” to denote someone who intentionally disrupts online communities”. The word refers to a method of catching fish, “by trolling a baited line in the water and waiting for a fish to bite. In the same sense, the Internet troll tries to “catch” an unsuspecting victim to demean and humiliate.” (NoBullying.com: 2015). Trolls use online forums, websites and social media sites to upset people or interrupt the flow of conversation.

In Whitney Phillips’ study, Meet the Trolls, she defines a particular type of cyberbully, the internet troll. Phillips claims that the troll’s characteristics are different from other cyberbullies. While investigating the trolling subculture on social media sites including Facebook, she observes: “… while hardly a monolithic or clearly homogeneous group, most trolls meet the following basic profile: they self-identify as trolls, tend to be intelligent, are playful and mischievous and wildly antagonistic” (2011:68).  Behind the veil of anonymity, essential to carry out their subversive tyranny, the troll will deliberately taunt, argue, insult and offend basically for no other reason than they can and this gives them pleasure.

Phillips notes that the target of a troll’s attention is inconsequential: “Put very simply, trolls are equal-opportunity offenders, primarily interested in lulz; this is what trolls refer to as ‘the game’” (2011:69). Troll behaviour varies across the spectrum from unpleasant rudeness to criminal activity which tests the boundaries of the right to free speech. It could be disputed that Phillips underplays the seriousness of the situation. Far from being playful, troll activity can be threatening, menacing, and cause misery to those who are targeted.

2.6     The extent and cost of cyberbullying in UK schools

The Nominet Trust commissioned two studies titled Virtual Violence I (2009) and Virtual Violence II (2012) in collaboration with Beatbullying. These in-depth studies investigate cyberbullying among children, young people and teachers within the UK. The Trust advocate the application of online technology in all its positive uses. Realising that the internet can be used as a means to cause harm as well as good, they recognise that the digital world contains both opportunities and risks for users. Trust Director, Annika Small observes:

Cyberbullying is a particularly damaging form of bullying and it is impossible to underestimate how destructive it can be. It erodes self-esteem and confidence, relationships with family and friends suffer, and harmful or risky behaviours come to be seen as ways of coping with pain. Bullied children are at higher risk of depression, achieving below their potential in school and dropping out of education altogether.

(Cross et al. 2012:4)

Findings from the latest survey of over 4,600 11-to-16-year-olds revealed that 28% “have been deliberately targeted, threatened or humiliated by an individual or group through the use of mobile phones or the internet” (Cross et al. 2012:6). Although the majority of cyberbullying activity is associated with children and young people, adults are affected, particularly teachers. The study revealed that 10% of teachers have been harassed and 48% have witnessed it happening to their colleagues (Cross et al. 2012:26).

A survey of over 10,000 young people (aged 13-22) in 2013 by the anti-bullying charity ‘Ditch the Label’ identified:

  • 7 in 10 young people are victims of cyberbullying which affects their social lives and self-esteem
  • 54% of those using Facebook have experienced cyberbullying
  • 28% of those using Twitter have experienced cyberbullying
  • Facebook, Twitter and Ask.FM were found to be the most likely sources of cyberbullying
  • It is estimated that 5.43 million young people in the UK have experienced cyberbullying, with 1.26 million subjected to extreme cyberbullying on a daily basis.
  • 3% of those suffering from cyberbullying attempted suicide.

(Ditch the label 2013:7-8)

Although bullying may happen anywhere, it has long been associated with the school playground. Government Acts have sought to regulate and reduce incidents. These are discussed in the next section.

2.7     Anti-bullying policies

In the UK, under section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, all state schools must have behavioural policies in place which include measures “to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils” (GOV.UK). Individual schools write their own policies which will, of course, vary. The Nominet Trust study has calculated that if each of the 3,310 secondary schools in the UK allocated one teacher dealing with cyberbullying for six hours per week, the weekly cost per school would be £208.85. The total cost per year to the UK in cyberbullying would be nearly 18 million pounds (£17,973,300) (Cross et al. 2012: 52).

Estimating the number of children and young people who are affected by cyberbullying in the UK was calculated using Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures and compared to the results of the study, which project that out of just below 4.4 million secondary school children in the UK, “350,222 children may have suffered persistent and insidious bullying inflicted via technology” (Cross et al. 2012:6). Interestingly, nearly half (44%) of those bullied say the bullying originated offline (face-to-face) before following them online. In some cases, cyberbullying is so extreme that the perpetrator can be prosecuted. The different laws are discussed in the next section.

2.8     Laws that cover cyberbullying

Cyberbullying has no legal definition in UK law although it can be considered a criminal offence under several existing Acts. The Cybersmile Foundation (2015), an anti-bullying charity, list these as:

  • Breach of the Peace (Scotland)
  • Communications Act 2003
  • Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
  • Defamation Act 2013
  • Malicious Communications Act 1988
  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997

The number of communications sent via social media every day is in the millions. The interpretation of the existing Acts has led to confusion and inconsistency in prosecuting extreme cyberbullies. This has led to new guidelines being written by the Crown Prosecution Service which took effect in 2013. These are discussed in the next section.

 2.9     Moral panic or freedom of speech?

Almost twenty years ago, Ellison and Akdeniz observed: “The phenomenon of cyber-stalking and on-line harassment looks set to be the focus of the next Internet-related moral panic” (1998:1). This was as a result of a surge of stalking cases in the UK which had been reported in the press. The debate, “served to highlight deficiencies of both civil and criminal law in dealing with those who engage in stalking activity” (1998:2). The problem was that at the time, stalking was not actually a criminal offence.  This was addressed relatively quickly with the Protection from Harassment Act introduced in 1997.

As mentioned in the previous section, there are many UK laws which can be applied in prosecuting against cyberbullying and harassment. In 2013, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, QC, introduced a set of guidelines to assist prosecutors when dealing with cases involving social media communications. Mr Starmer summarised:

These are cases that can give rise to complex issues, but to avoid the potential chilling effect that might arise from high numbers of prosecutions in cases in which a communication might be considered grossly offensive, we must recognise the fundamental right to freedom of expression and only proceed with prosecution when a communication is more than offensive, shocking or disturbing, even if distasteful or painful to those subjected to it.

(CPS: 2013)

A major consideration in compiling the guidelines was in maintaining a balance between an individual’s right to free speech and expression whilst also upholding the criminal law. It is a contentious issue but a worthwhile point. A post on social media may offend or upset one person but be quite within the boundaries of the law.

2.10   Summary of the literature review

This chapter demonstrates that there has been a vast amount of quantitative research done previously into the subject of cyberbullying. The findings of such studies indicate that cyberbullying is an immense problem with far-reaching consequences. Having clarified some of the difficulties in understanding and interpreting cyberbullying definitions, this study will now look at the chosen method of research and how cyberbullying stories are represented in the British press.



 3.1     Introduction

The intention of this study is to analyse newspaper stories to see how cyberbullying is represented within the British press. To this aim, stories relating to cyberbullying were chosen from the Mail Online, the internet version of the Daily Mail newspaper. According to the Press Gazette: “The Daily Mail is the most read newspaper brand in the UK…” (Ponsford 2015). Figures from the National Readership Survey (NRS), annual surveys of 2014 and 2015 confirm that the Daily Mail has been the most popular newspaper in the UK when print and online figures are combined (NRS 2014, NRS 2015). The International Business Times describes the Daily Mail as, “the tabloid for the traditionalist, conservative middle classes” (Croucher 2015). In selecting a middle market newspaper with extensive readership and analysing news stories concerning cyberbullying, it is hoped to gain an understanding on how cyberbullying may be perceived by a reader.

A qualitative language study was chosen as the most suitable method of analysis. Qualitative research is “characterised by its aims, which relate to understanding some aspect of social life, and its methods which (in general) generate words, rather than numbers, as data for analysis” (Patton and Cochran 2002). This approach is more relevant for two reasons. Firstly, in gaining an understanding of what is said about cyberbullying and what can be deduced from the texts. Secondly, in reporting the results, using clear, identified themes. Fairclough’s model of Critical Discourse Analysis was the preferred method.

3.2     Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)

In his book, Media Discourse, Fairclough refers to “the power of the mass media… The power of the media to shape governments and parties… The power to influence knowledge, beliefs, values, social relations, social identities” (1995: 2). In his model of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), Fairclough uses the framework to analyse media language. He adds that, “analysis of media language should be recognized as an important element within research on contemporary processes of social and cultural change…” (1995: 2). The linguist and journalist Bell, makes similar observations of the study of media language in that it is, “an essential part of the content of what the media purvey to us. That is, language is a tool and expression of media messages.” (1996: 3).  Bell places a particular emphasis on how language is used in reporting news to a mass audience. Among the summary of reasons to study media language he lists:

  • “taking advantage of how the media communication situation manipulates language in a revealing way, for instance in news copy editing
  • interest in what media language reveals as a mirror of the wider society and culture (and)
  • interest in how media language affects attitudes and opinions in society through the way it presents people and issues” (1996: 4).

In defining CDA, Fairclough explains that media language should be analysed as a discourse. That is, as well as analysing the texts, it is important to look at the practices for example, how the texts are “produced by media workers in media institutions and the ways in which texts are received by audiences…” (1995: 16). Furthermore, analysis should be part of a wider context of sociocultural practice.  

3.3     Sample of stories

Four stories were chosen from Daily Mail columnists. The opinion piece gives more insight towards issues about cyberbullying as they include the writer’s beliefs and points of view, which is not present in a traditional ‘inverted pyramid’ style news story. These stories were chosen due to their relevance concerning the cyberbullying themes of harassment and outing and trickery.  The stories are analysed as case studies in the next chapter. Although this is not a large sample group, it is not the quantity of stories which matter. Instead, it is the content of the analysis and the issues raised which are more relevant in this investigation.

3.4     Ethical considerations

The texts used for the case studies are from the Daily Mail and are all in the public domain. They are available to read online through archives on the Mail Online website. No information was taken from private spaces. Oliver (2010:138) observes that data in the public domain may be used freely. He adds: “The analysis of such data is the least intrusive form of Internet-based research and may only relatively rarely involve ethical issues”. From this it can be stated that no permissions for consent or confidentiality are required.

 3.5     Summary of the methodology

Quantitative research methods provide clear facts and figures which have been beneficial in visualising the extent of the cyberbullying problem in the previous chapter. It is useful to know how many people have been affected; their ages, where they live and the severity of their suffering. It does not, however, offer any explanations, as to how cyberbullying is perceived by others or an understanding of “experiences and attitudes” (Patton and Cochran 2002). CDA enables a greater understanding of the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of specific cyberbullying articles and, by analysis, reveals issues that are not covered by measured variables and component analysis as in quantitative research. The CDA method is also favourable for understanding the interaction between the techniques of production and reception and the ideological context of the text.



 4.1     Case Study 1.

We MUST defeat the sexting bullies (… and I don’t mean the guys who’ve been swapping snaps of my cleavage)

By Rachel Johnson for the Mail On Sunday. January 20, 2013.

(Johnson: 2013)

4.1.1    Synopsis of the text

In summary, the first text, (see appendix A) begins with Johnson describing a corporate lunch she had recently attended during which a fellow diner had taken a photograph of her cleavage. This photograph soon began circulating via email and the internet. Johnson has chosen not to take offence at this activity.

Johnson then relates how disagreements and misunderstandings can quickly spiral out of control on platforms such as Twitter. Referring to two of her colleagues, Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill, who have both faced a torrent of abuse following an article written by the former and supported by the latter.

The text then introduces the key issue, that of ‘sexting’. This practice is shown to have a devastating effect on children, citing the events that led to a 13-year-old girl who took her own life following the distribution of a video filmed on a mobile phone in which she had been forced to perform a sex act on an older boy.

4.1.2    Text analysis

Within the headline, the use of the modal auxiliary verb, “MUST defeat” and the capitalisation suggests very strongly that something needs to be done to beat the “sexting bullies”. The verb “defeat” refers metaphorically to war. It is a very strong opening, enough to implant concerns into the reader’s mind about the issue. Also within the headline is the direct comparison made by using informal terms and alliteration to light-heartedly exclude the “guys swapping snaps”, implying there is no animosity towards them.

By using the text message Chevonea Kendall-Bryan sent to the boy with the video as a direct quotation, this portrays her as a real person, not just a statistic of bullying. This will have an impact on parents and families of teenage girls, who will appreciate the vulnerability and sensitivity of the adolescent. The direct quotation from Chevonea’s mother, taken from a letter to the school about the bullying situation reinforces this human element as she implores the school to take action against bullying.

Two literary devices encapsulate the current situation in the United States. Firstly, the use of research. By identifying that “two-thirds of high school girls” have been “slutshamed” (as defined by Outing and Trickery in chapter two), this shows the enormity of the problem. Secondly, defining how slutshaming is perceived by the use of the three-part list “trampish, deviant or perverse”. This is an effective way of holding a reader’s attention, and is often used by politicians to emphasise a point.

In describing “this horrible practice”, the writer is clearly giving her point of view and stance on the subject. This is supported by the oppositional (and unbalanced) relationship between the genders identifying that “girls who perform sex acts are branded sluts, while boys are players”. The opposition in comparing “fair comment” and “offensive insults” also expresses the binary with one implying good and the other, bad.

Throughout the article the writer uses the plural pronoun “we”. This alludes to an allegiance between herself and the reader, shared values and opinions on the issue. In rounding off the use of “Let’s” also involves the reader as to the way forward; a succinct negation between “grown women who can take care of themselves” and “children who can’t

In the image accompanying this article, the writer poses for a casually-clothed, waist-up photograph, body side on, head facing front and slightly tilted. This gives a clear silhouette of her breasts, the subject of the first third of the text. It is a relaxed pose in which she is smiling openly and yet demurely. By agreeing to be photographed this way the writer demonstrates her self-confidence with her own body image.

Rachel Johnson is an intelligent, articulate businesswoman. She is a successful journalist, editor, television presenter and author.  As a woman with a public persona and sister of the previous mayor of London, Boris Johnson, Ms Johnson has been the target of negative comments and behaviour on social media platforms as described in the article. With maturity and self-confidence, she chooses to rise above such bullying behaviour with regard to herself. However, she urges support for the vulnerable children who do not have the confidence or experience to manage the destructive forces of cyberbullying.

4.2     Case Study 2.

Trolls are just today’s muttering nutters on a bus says RACHEL JOHNSON

By Rachel Johnson for the Mail On Sunday October 19, 2014.

Johnson (2014)

4.2.1    Synopsis of the text

This text (see appendix B) opens with a referral to the previous week’s disturbance and disorder on social media sites. This was as a result of the television presenter Judy Finnigan, saying that a football player, having served time in prison for rape, should now be allowed to return to his job as he had paid his debt to society.

The backlash from those who disagreed was immense. For some reason, Ms Finnigan’s daughter, Chloe Madeley, was also targeted by trolls. It is observed that trolling is a frequent occurrence. Several high profile women are listed as having had similar abuse directed at them.

There is a call to end trolling which is dependent on meeting two condition. Firstly, everyone needs to stop repeating or reprinting the insulting messages and secondly, by ending online anonymity. Trolls are described as cowards and bullies when they remain unseen but when exposed they are often sad, pathetic people and usually quite harmless. The writer likens trolls to the ‘muttering nutter on the bus’, who can be blocked or reported.

The text then expands on some of the previously mentioned high-profile women who have been targeted and ends with a quote from Ms Madeley.

4.2.2    Text analysis

In the headline, trolls are described metaphorically as today’s equivalent of the “muttering nutters on a bus”, referring to an observational comedy routine by Jasper Carrott from 1976, in the days before political correctness. Carrott recounts the scene of being on a bus when a crazed, ranting character gets on. Everyone with a spare seat next to them dreads “the nutter” sitting next to them. This direct comparison makes the troll sound like someone to pity, rather than fear.

Within the first line of the text, an effective three-part list of adjectives is used, “deranged, disgusting (and most likely, nocturnal)” all connote a negative impression of the troll under the theme of insanity. The troll’s communications are described as “emissions” which serves to compare them to exhaust fumes or waste products.

Another three-part list in the second paragraph is more complex and used with a simile. Within the sentence, the use of othering defines the trolls as “strange people” who “come out and flap around like mad bats without any sonar of common sense, irony or decency”. The simile continues the insanity theme in labelling the bats as “mad”. The imagery of small winged-mammals flying around aimlessly with no sense of direction in a physical sense can also be interpreted through the use of the nouns “common sense, irony or decency” to imply that the troll has no moral compass either. This is a powerful and descriptive paragraph which will grab and hold the attention of the reader.

The writer makes her own opinion clear by agreeing with Judy Finnigan’s opinion that the footballer should be allowed to have his old job back. This is made in direct opposition of “the 150,000 who have signed a petition against Evans rejoining his club”. It was this controversial topic that started the most recent onslaught from trolls on social media sites. Many of those who opposed Ms Finnegan’s opinion verbally attacked her daughter to vent their anger: “Chloe, for some reason, got it in the neck”. With no clear reason for their motive, the trolls appear to be irrational. The writer is hinting again that the trolls are mad and their behaviour aggressive.

The three-part list is used twice more in this article. First in naming other prominent women; an academic, a feminist campaigner and an MP who have all been affected by online harassment and with whom the writer shares the opinion that “trolling needs to stop”. Stated as a quote it reinforces the message as their voices appear united in this cause. The second list is in othering the trolls as “sad, pathetic human beings”.

The writer informs that there is a button on Twitter to block or report abuse but that she finds it helps to imagine trolls as “the random people who sit on the top deck of buses, muttering to themselves”. This adds weight to what she has already suggested along the themes of insanity, suggesting that trolls may have some mental disorder.

In making a second brief point towards ending trolling: “And, two, anonymity online should end”, this short statement stands alone in the text and has the most impact. Most trolling derives from the ability to post anonymously. On sites where users have to register their identity they are more likely to behave respectfully and less likely to post hostile and offensive comments. Johnson returns to this subject in a conversational tone, answering an unasked question “I don’t know how we get there from here either”. By using the plural pronoun “we”, she is including the reader in the thought process to achieve the objective.

The text ends by quoting a Tweet from Chloe Madeley: “And for my grand finale… PAPERS SHOULD STOP QUOTING TROLLS, THEY ARE NOT SANE”. This supports the general theme of the article, that trolls are absurd deviants who, when unmasked, are feeble, unhappy people who do not pose a real threat to anyone. All the bluster and intimidation is made possible by masquerading in the shadows.

4.3       Case Study 3.

KATIE HOPKINS: Cheryl, dear, don’t reach for your lawyers every time some idiot on social media insults you – reach for your self-respect. It’s cheaper

By Katie Hopkins for the Mail Online November 24, 2015.

Hopkins (2015)

 4.3.1    Synopsis of the text

This text (see appendix C), begins with Hopkins explaining that the singer and talent show judge Cheryl Fernandez-Versini has taken legal action against a photographer who took pictures of her in the bathroom at the recent British Fashion Awards. It was claimed that three white lines in the photograph may have been cocaine. The photograph appeared on Instagram but was soon removed.

This is not the first time that Ms Fernandez-Versini has taken legal action against someone. Lord Sugar also got into trouble recently for suggesting that the singer was too thin. Another talent show judge, Amanda Holden, spoke out to say that when you are in the public eye you have to accept that people will talk about you. Hopkins thinks this is a sensible approach.

Hopkins then writes a humorous and tongue-in-cheek list of five basic rules that everyone should follow in order to enjoy social media sites. These all parody the worst sorts of trolling behaviour giving an example of the type of person you are likely to encounter. It is suggested that if Ms Fernandez-Versini were to learn these rules, she would be able to hold her head high and remind the haters to deal with their own problems.

4.3.2    Text analysis

In the headline, Hopkins appears to be reaching out with a personal communication to Cheryl Fernandez-Versini. The message is to not take legal action “every time some idiot on social media” insults her. The writer advises employing self-respect as it is cheaper. Addressing Ms Fernandez-Versini as “dear” may be interpreted as a term of affection although it has a hint of condescension.

The insult Hopkins is referring to is that Ms Fernandez-Versini had been photographed, without her knowledge, in a bathroom at the British Fashion Awards. The photograph was then uploaded to Instagram where it was debated whether three white lines in the picture may have been cocaine. The photograph was clearly a breach of privacy issue and comes under the theme of outing and trickery in cyberbullying definitions. The photograph has since been removed. It is suggested that Ms Fernandez-Versini’s lawyers arranged this but there is no confirming statement of that.

Hopkins suggests that Ms Fernandez-Versini should not be so sensitive to the behaviour of others and supports that with an indirect quote from another media personality “Amanda says celebrities have to accept people are going to say stuff about them”. Hopkins states that “People need to wise-up to a few basic rules of social media”. Using the collective noun this covers everyone, including the reader, to the advice she has to offer.

Hopkins then lists five likely behaviours one will encounter on social media sites and labels them each with collective nouns to define a personality type. For example: “1) Men will call you terrible names and threaten to rape you with a machete…”. Further description of this character’s profile summarises him as an amoral, sexist football-hooligan who still lives at home with his mum. Other examples include strangers who call you names and menopausal women who will stalk you. These are clearly a satirical poke at the trolls and serves to mock and belittle them and their loathsome behaviour. By othering the personality types the writer sets them apart from us, the reader.

Having listed the farcical characters, Hopkins addresses Cheryl by name again, that “Once you know the rules of social media… remind the haters to deal with their own issues first”. The message also serves all readers of the Daily Mail to follow this set of guidelines. Hopkins is an outspoken columnist and as such has attracted a lot of negative attention on social media sites. Her views do not conform to the conventions of political correctness but she champions free speech and traditional British values.

4.4     Case Study 4.

Twitter’s a sewer – so I’m quitting: SARAH VINE explains why she is ‘celebrating’ site’s tenth birthday by closing her account

By Sarah Vine for the Daily Mail March 23, 2016.

Vine (2016)

 4.4.1    Synopsis of the text

In the final text (see appendix D), Vine observes that social media site Twitter has been operational for ten years. She adds that this is no cause for celebration unless you enjoy an open sewer flowing into your computer. The networking site had initially appealed to her as it seemed an exciting way of sharing experiences on a variety of topics.

Vine notes that as Twitter grew in popularity it changed from a civilised and happy place to one inhabited by trolls and trollops. She adds that Twitter has also become a platform for publicity-seeking wannabes, bullies, political extremists, terrorists, racists and pornographers. She likens Twitter to an innocent baby growing into a juvenile thug.

Referring to the Brussels atrocity which had happened the previous day, Vine gives examples of the range of vacuous commentary that flooded the site with no useful or constructive purpose. She asserts that Twitter offers a dystopian vision of society when all boundaries of civilised behaviour are removed.

Vine shares that she has been targeted by trolls and although she has tried to reason with them it is pointless, likening the experience to that of facing a medieval mob with pitchforks and torches. She is hopeful that Twitter will die as research shows that the number of Tweets per day has more than halved since 2014. The text ends with Vine declaring her intention to delete her Twitter account and gives thanks and apologies to her followers.

4.4.2    Text analysis

The headline is quite informal in style and gets directly to the point, informing the reader metaphorically: “Twitter’s a sewer – so I’m quitting”. The theme continues into the first paragraph. After highlighting the word “celebrate” twice within quotation marks, to emphasise that Twitter has been active for ten years, it is clear that this is not an occasion that gives the writer any pleasure. Twitter is likened to a “giant open sewer flowing into your computer”. The imagery suggests an outflow of filth from foul-smelling, rat-infested gutters. This is a very powerful opening which will have a captivating effect on the reader.

The writer relates that as Twitter increased in popularity, it changed from a happy place to exchange views to one “dominated by trolls and trollops”.   The direct opposition is emphasised by the use of alliteration in describing the overbearing bullies. This is reiterated in othering an American reality television star and describing her sort with pre-modified nouns “glorified nonentities” and “vacuous wannabes”.

One particular type of bully is identified by naming, that of “the self-righteous Left screaming down any opinion that doesn’t mirror their half-baked philosophies”. Here Vine declares her own political stance clearly aligned with the Daily Mail reader. A three-part list describes another selection of othering, adding ironically that Twitter also “happily functions as a network for terrorists, racists and pornographers”. The most “disgusting” in opposition to “normal life”.

Vine uses an interesting literary technique in personifying Twitter as “an enchanting baby born with such hope” who has grown up to became “the most vicious of juvenile thugs”. In using this technique, the reader can see Twitter as a horrible person, not someone to associate with.  The personification theme is used again, referring to the number of tweets sent per day which has halved, stating “Twitter is dying”. This is welcome news to Vine, described as “a chink of light” which reminds the reader of the dark sewer that Twitter has become.

As the wife of a Conservative politician (Michael Gove), Vine makes clear her own political allegiance and lists that as a result of that and things that she has written she “had people wishing me, my husband and my children dead”. Her own harassment is subtly balanced in supporting the Labour MP Luciana Berger, who has been the target of anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter. By drawing attention to their political differences and yet complimenting and showing support to Berger, the writer is implying that it is alright to have different views without verbally attacking or threatening others – something which Twitter users seem unable to do.

The photograph accompanying this article also features Luciana Berger. It is a head and shoulders shot with microphones visible in the bottom of the frame. She is looking off into the distance to her left, her mouth open, mid-speech. The backdrop of plain red fills the frame and clearly places her in the left-wing faction. This is again demonstrating balance and support as previously mentioned. The writer could easily have chosen a Conservative MP who has been affected by trolls but by choosing a Labour MP this shows the writer as well-balanced and fair.

4.5     Summary of analysis

There is extensive use of a variety of literary techniques evident within all four stories. These various tools serve to add emphasis to what the writers wanted to say regarding cyberbullying or how the victims are perceived. Johnson uses three-point lists throughout her stories to emphasis her definitions. Atkinson states: “One of the attractions of three-part lists is that they create an impression of completeness” (2005: 196). This is a subtle and effective method of conveying information, often used by politicians and public speakers.

Cyberbullies are referred to as trolls throughout the second and fourth stories. They are further defined by all writers in negative naming terms. Johnson uses the theme of insanity; strange people, mad bats, hypocrites, lunatics, cowards and bullies. Vine refers to trolls and trollops, vicious juvenile thugs, a cacophony of voices shouting, vitriolic, shameless and vile. Hopkins names them as idiots and haters. Evans observes: “The way we name things can tell people a lot about the way we see the world… Naming is of particular significance in the language of powerful or influential people and institutions” (2013). The way things are named shapes the readers view in an ideological sense.

Throughout the texts, all the writers express their disapproval of the practice of cyberbullying on social media sites with strong and effective language. Johnson speaks of the horrible practice and that it is all very unpleasant. Hopkins calls it a game. Vine describes the attention-seeking vulgarity, awash with ugliness. Fairclough states: “that the exercise of power, in modern society, is increasingly achieved through ideology, and more particularly through the ideological workings of language” (2001: 2) The writers are quite explicit in their definitions; trolls are represented by everything that is mad, sad and bad in in society, described in literary terms, in opposition to ‘us’, the sane, happy and virtuous reader. The trolls are spoken of with disdain, mocked and ridiculed. They are objects to pity.

The three columnists are all mature women and mothers who have achieved success in their careers. They each have first-hand experience of the outing and trickery and harassment issues of which they write and share these with the reader in anecdotes through their columns in the Daily Mail. This newspaper is a right-wing tabloid which broadly supports all things traditional and British. According to Bishop: “This shows how the media will in a calculated way present people in visually distinct ways depending on the agenda of the journalist or newspaper” (2014: 21). This shared information and character representation of the cyberbully serves to connect with the reader more intimately. As a result, the writers can impart their knowledge, wisdom and coping strategies as a shared ideology with the reader.

4.6     Discussion

Bullying is often thought of as a children’s playground activity which includes name-calling, pushing or hitting and generally just being mean towards one another. This behaviour takes on new dimensions in the cyber-world. It is no longer a one-to-one situation contained within a small community. Whatever is said or revealed online can be copied and shared around the globe within a relatively short period of time, even if the original post is removed or deleted. The online bully can also hide their identity under a false name and is likely to be more daring or threatening when anonymous. Cyberbullying affects children and adults and in the more serious cases of harassment have led to criminal charges being brought against the perpetrators and can be punished with a prison sentence.

All state schools in the UK have to have behavioural policies by law and these include procedures to deal with bullying behaviour. The adolescent years are fraught with anxiety. The transition to adulthood with all the bodily developments and hormonal changes can be an emotional experience. Teenagers in particular, want to feel that they ‘belong’ within their group and to be isolated by others at this fragile, sensitive time can be devastating.

For many years, in post-war Britain, children were sent out to play and only came home for meals and before it got dark. In communities where everyone knew each other it was considered safe. As time has gone on these practices have had to stop. Roads are much busier, there are less open spaces to play in and communities are not as tight-knit as they used to be. When two-year-old James Bulger was abducted and murdered in 1993, the atrocity was compounded when it was learned that his killers were aged just 10 and 11. Added to this is the constant stranger danger which has permeated our society and the more recent profusion of paedophiles who have been exposed. This has led to a restriction of freedom for the younger generations. Along with advancements in technology, it is now considered safer to have the children at home playing on games consoles.

This generation have grown up in a digital world. They have smartphones and use social media sites to communicate with each other. De Singly observes: “At a time when this generation gap is widening, children have more expertise in the use of digital tools but do not apply the appropriate safeguards.” (ca.2016). Children need supervision and guidance in their use of online platforms. Parental controls can ensure that only age-appropriate content is viewed or online time is limited to certain times when it can be monitored.

4.7     Other solutions to combat cyberbullying

Recognising the seriousness of the situation has led to some innovative research into cyberbullying. Dinaker et al, researchers at MIT, have designed a computer programme which they hope will reduce cyberbullying. Based on a set of algorithms that detect potentially hurtful sequences of words from a data base, they believe the system could be used on social media sites to flag up messages before they are sent. The system uses natural language processing which learns as it goes. “We use these models to power reflective user-interaction to foster empathy among social network participants, automatically index educational material for victims and perpetrators, and a dashboard to help site moderators prioritize user complaints” (2012). The system would allow users to reconsider what they have written before they press send. With the opportunity to reflect, users may avoid the spontaneous, heat of the moment transmission of potentially hurtful and upsetting comments.

Another experimental study towards raising awareness and reducing cyberbullying has been developed by Tanrikulu, Kinay and Aricak. The Sensibility Development Program against Cyberbullying (SDPaCB), is a programme intended for use by school counsellors to work with groups of students aged 15-18, “to help students develop sensitivity to cyberbullying to protect themselves from cyberbullying” (2015: 711). Over five therapy sessions which cover cyberbullying awareness, internet security, and coping strategies, the goal is to “ensure that individuals can control their lives efficiently” (2015:711). Results from the study, which took place in Turkey showed there was a marked improvement in the “level of sensibility” following the sessions.

There have been debates both for and against regulating the internet for many years. As mentioned in chapter 2.9, back in 1997 legislation was introduced to cover harassment and that applies whether it is harassment in person or online. Other legal solutions to cyberbullying were discussed in chapter 2.8, listing the current legislation which covers the spectrum of cyberbullying. The main non-legal solution in dealing with cyberbullying according to Gillespie is education: “Educating adolescents could take two formats: helping victims to understand the dangers and how to take simple steps to minimise any threat and educating those who believe that cyber-bullying is harmless” (2006: 135). This would enable individuals to exert their rights to free speech while also respecting themselves and others.



This study has outlined the issues around cyberbullying and presented a brief account of how cyberbullying is represented in the Daily Mail newspaper. The study was limited to stories featuring two themes under the definitions of cyberbullying; harassment and outing and trickery. The Critical Discourse Analysis method was chosen to complete qualitative research in order to analyse the language of the text, the processes of production and reception of the text and the wider social context.

The findings show that although cyberbullying is a serious issue, the representation of the bullies, named as trolls, was addressed quite humorously. They were mocked and parodied, likened to sewer-dwellers, labelled insane and miscreant cowards. These definitions from mature women writers puts a quite different perspective on the cyberbully. They are still faceless, nameless, vindictive and threatening but underneath, they are just ordinary, flawed people living in their make-believe worlds where they feel powerful and invincible. Wherever possible they should be ignored, pitied or ridiculed.

The number of people affected and the extent of cyberbullying indicates that it is a subject in need of more research. Further language studies into other themes of cyberbullying or through other newspapers may yield more varied results. It is evident that cyberbullying is a pandemic problem and will be around for the foreseeable future as one more generation after another are affected. With that in mind, other solutions towards prevention of cyberbullying should be sought.



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Appendix A: News story 1. Rachel Johnson January 20, 2013

Appendix B: News story 2. Rachel Johnson October 19, 2014  

Appendix C: News story 3.  Katie Hopkins November 24, 2015

Appendix D: News story 4. Sarah Vine March 23, 2016