Charities last night called for the Government to act after new research revealed that websites encouraging suicide and self-harm topped a list of teenagers' greatest worries about the internet. The findings have raised fears that growing numbers of young people are becoming vulnerable to the messages being put out by such sites.
The findings come just a week after widespread condemnation of internet trolling associated with the death of the cyber-bullying victim Amanda Todd. The Canadian teenager was found dead on 10 October, a few weeks after she had posted a harrowing YouTube video in which she told of the online bullying she had suffered by holding up handwritten notes. Vigils were held for the 15-year-old schoolgirl across Canada and as far afield as India on Friday night.
The charities' calls also highlighted the death of British teenager Tallulah Wilson, 15, who was found dead on the tracks of St Pancras Station in London last Sunday, after reportedly posting messages on Twitter referring to websites featuring self-harm.
A leading charity Beat Bullying said young people were now increasingly falling victim to online bullying and malicious communications, which they say has become a "very serious" problem. The organisation warned that many teenagers, young children and parents were still confused about whether they could seek legal protection against such abuse.
Emma-Jane Cross, the chief executive of Beat Bullying, said: "It's time for us to do something about it. We may have to look at revising existing laws - the vast amount of which were made before the advancements in technology - to see if they are still fit for purpose.
"Children want to know what protection the law can give them if they're abused online, and that's not clear at the moment."
Scott Freeman, from the cyber-bullying charity The Cybersmile Foundation, added: "What we would like to see is the current outdated legislation to be amended so it is designed for the internet. It needs to define whether the internet is public or private - because at the moment it's a grey area of law."
The survey carried out by Beat Bullying earlier this year found that more than half, 54 per cent of the 11- to 18-year-olds they questioned said that sites promoting suicide were their biggest worry when it came to the internet. A further 44 per cent said they were most worried by pages which promoted self-harm.
But the top concern among the respondents - of which 81 per cent were female - was online bullying, with 58 per cent saying this was their most pressing worry.
One 16-year-old, Georgia Woods, told last night of her own experience of vicious online taunts from classmates, revealing that at one point she even came close to taking her own life.
She said: "There was a hate mail Facebook page. I was receiving messages and texts and couldn't log on to my computer without there being some sort of death threat.
"At first I was just confused, but as it went on I started to believe them and that's when I started getting suicidal thoughts and when I tried to hang myself."
Following a sharp rise in criminal complaints involving Twitter and Facebook, the Criminal Prosecution Service is now planning to issue new legal guidelines on social media cases.