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  1. ITV Report

Fear and Loathing Online

Millions of us live our lives online – using social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to share our thoughts, feelings and even our opinions. But a growing number of people using these sites are being subjected to bullying, abuse and even death threats from people they’ve never met.

Online abuse is a growing problem and the number of convictions has trebled in the last 5 years to over 1,200.

Online abuse is a growing problem in the UK. Credit: ITV/Tonight

Feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado-Perez, hit the headlines after successfully campaigning for more women to appear on new Bank of England notes. Her new public profile led her to be viciously targeted by a number of trolls on Twitter, sending her a tirade of very graphic rape threats and bomb threats - even posting what they thought was Caroline's home address.

But it's not just people in the public eye who receive abuse and sometimes once the abuse starts in can be very difficult to make it stop.

Feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado-Perez, hit the headlines after suffering threats online. Credit: ITV/Tonight

Nicola Brookes from Brighton has been the victim of online abuse for the past two years. Her abuse started when she posted a message of support on an X Factor contestant's Facebook page. Within hours she received hundreds of offensive comments calling her a paedophile and a prostitute. Two years on, Nicola still receives abuse online and she is desperate to bring it to an end.

Nicola Brookes has been the victim of online abuse for the past two years Credit: ITV/Tonight

Experts warn that even though the laws are in place, it is being policed inconsistently - meaning many are getting away with it. However, the police have got a tough job on their hands as the more sophisticated online abusers will often go to great lengths to conceal their identity, making it extremely difficult to catch the right person.

Reporter Jonathan Maitland meets the victims of online abuse on the Tonight programme Credit: ITV/Tonight

On the Tonight programme - today at 7.30pm on ITV - reporter Jonathan Maitland meets the victims of online abuse, speaks to a man who takes pleasure out of causing offence online, and discovers for himself just how hard it is to track down the culprits.

For more advice on the using the internet safely visit the knowthenet website

For advice and support on dealing with the effects of bullying visit the Beat Bullying website

Visit the women's aid website for advice and support on dealing with domestic violence