Online abuse: how different countries deal with it

Nations worldwide are struggling to address issues such as harassment, libel or retaliation pornography

Online abuse is rife on social media and other sites across the globe but countries are attempting to deal with it in very different ways. As part the Protector Web we want series investigating the dark side of the internet – and the efforts people are constructing to clean it up – we look at what different parliaments are doing.


With more internet users than any other country 688 million, according to the governments last counting China offer fertile ground for online abuse.

The most notorious sort is the so-called human flesh search engine, by which internet users club together to identify and then publicly humiliate online targets who have been accused of anything from corruption to infidelity or animal brutality.

Ding Jinhao, a adolescent from the city of Nanjing, understands the hazards better than most. In May 2013 he was the target of a furious online campaign after another internet user accused him of carving the phrase Ding Jinhao was here into an ancient Egyptian temple while on holiday.

Chinese characters that read Ding Jinhao paid a visit here are assured carved on a statue on the wall of an ancient temple in Luxor. Photo: China Stringer Network/ Reuters

Tens of thousands of Chinese internet users shared the reporting of Dings infraction. His personal details and school address were published online to dishonor him and his schools website was hacked.

So ferocious was the offensive against Ding that his family was forced to issue an online apology for his behaviour. We want to apologise to the Egyptian people and to people who have paid attention to this case across China, his mother told a local newspaper.

Beijing, despite boasting an immense army of online censors and perhaps the most sophisticated internet censorship apparatus on Earth, has been slow to react to the growing tide of online abuse.

Scholars warn that human flesh search groups, which first appeared more than a decade ago, have in many cases become online lynch mobs. But China still has no specific statute to counter cyberbullying, tells Zhou Zongkui, one of the few Chinese academics to have studied the issue.

Zhou describes cyberbullying on social media groups such as Weibo or Weixin as a serious and growing threat to his countrys youth. In a study of nearly 1,500 secondary school he found that virtually 35% of respondents admitted to having bullied someone online while virtually 57% said they had been bullied.

Chinese school students: a survey uncovered widescale cyberbullying among pupils. Photograph: Alamy

They spread rumours about you or defame you online in order to isolate or marginalise you, said Zhou, functional specialists in teen cyber psychology and behaviour from the Central China Normal University. It is hard for people that age to bear and it builds them depressed. Tom Phillips Beijing. Additional reporting by Christy Yao


The problem with online abuse in Russia is often not so much that the authorities do not take it seriously, but that they may actually be behind it.

Ruslan Leviev, a blogger who has utilized open-source information to chart Russian military manoeuvres in Ukraine and Syria, has been on the receiving aim of many online threats on Twitter and Facebook. A patriotic website also published an home address and phone number that it attributed to him.

Recently Ive been getting a lot of calls from people saying theyre going to come and get me, he said.

So far , none of the threats have turned into real physical action. He has not contacted police about security threats, believing it is unlikely that anything would be done.

Ruslan Leviev Photograph: Twitter

Anonymous murder threats by phone or internet are almost never analyse, the security forces arent interested in such petty crimes, because the evidence is weak for a court case.

Additionally, given the political nature of his work, he believes it is unlikely that he would find allies among the police.

If I feel that there is a real danger for me, then I would go to the police, but not so that theyd solve the lawsuit, but simply so that when I do get attacked in future I can show that I did go to the police.

Even in cases where abuse comes from non-official sources, the legal framework can act as an aggravating factor. Gay rights activists quote the controversial 2013 statutes against lesbian propaganda as contributing to an environment where online and real-life harassment of lesbian people is encouraged.

Russia has no specific laws on online abuse but the phenomenon is theoretically covered by standard statutes against threatening violence or assassination. For cases of retaliation porn, Russians are often reluctant to go to the police, with merely a handful of cases each year.

Often people will come to us but will then decide not to go public when it becomes clear that it will involve the police analyse their private affairs and so on, told Damir Gainutdinov, a human rights lawyer.

Online abuse in Russia can be sophisticated and multifarious. At Russias notorious troll farm in St Petersburg, thought to have shadowy links to the countrys authorities, hundreds of people put in all-day shiftings on social networks and online commentary forums, spamming the internet with pro-Kremlin views on the questions of the day.

Many of the trolls also expend their days curating fake personal blogs; one former troll told the Guardian how she was instructed to post blog entries hectoring opposition leaders or unfriendly public figure on her accounts, among more innocent posts about trivia and daily life. Shaun Walker Moscow


I call the internet and social media the wild west, says Nik Noone, CEO of Galop, Londons LGBT anti-violence organisation. People are in this territory that changes promptly but regulations or norms are not evolving at the same pace. The criminal justice system and legislation has struggled to keep up with the pace of change and the reality of what people are experiencing.

Online abuse in the UK can be broadly broken down into two categories. The first is the more targeted abuse that is directed towards someone often by a partner, ex-partner, colleague or classmate. Noones group places revenge pornography as well as stalking into this category. Its very targeted, very persistent, potentially extremely dangerous and can have a very powerful impact, she says.

It is often women, victims of domestic abuse and LGBT people who are the victims of these targeted attacks. Theres quite a hidden LGBT element in terms of revenge porn, tells Noone, who says attackers will sometimes threaten to post scenes outing someone to family and friends unless blackmail demands are met.

An ex-partner can put a photo online that would out person, even if its not sexually explicit and police might tell Whats the problem with that, it simply presents a nice cosy picture of two people snuggling on a couch. But that threat is part of a coercive situation.

That for me harks back to a pre-legalisation world, says Noone.

But this targeted abuse is beginning to be tackled by legislation. In April 2015, retaliation porn the sharing of private sexual photo or films without consent became a criminal offence. In the six months after it was introduced, nearly 200 cases of retaliation porn were reported to police across England and Wales, leading to 13 convictions of 12 men and one woman.

Caroline Criado-Perez received threats via Twitter after her campaign to have Jane Austen featured on banknotes. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

In March, a senior police officer dealing with cyber crime called for new legislation to deal with online abuse, which he said was resulting on an unimagined scale that could overwhelm the police service.

Other steps, such as the introduction of a national stalking helpline and national retaliation porn helpline have assisted victims. In a promising step, in March 2015, the Crown Prosecution Service updated its guidelines to cover a wider range of cyber-related crimes, including those involving people setting up fake profiles in the names of others.

The second element of online abuse in the UK is related to more general abuse directed towards person in a public online space. This can be targeted at person with a public profile, such as the death and rape menaces directed at activist Caroline Criado-Perez via Twitter in 2013 for her campaign to have Jane Austen featured on banknotes, which led to two sentences. Or it can be aimed at less prominent figures, for example by shaming and ostracising people including with regard to online communities Facebook groups for particular subcultures or Tumblr communities, for example. This abuse is often difficult to prosecute, but makes people scared and distressed in their virtual communities, tells Noone.

When these things happen they feel very frightening and overwhelming, they come into your pocket; they come into your home, where youre supposed to feel safe, she told. Kate Lyons


Colombian internet users face the same issues as those elsewhere harassment, stalking, retaliation porn and blackmail, largely aimed at women. But in the South American country, which has been beset by long-running conflict, the situation is complicated as this abuse sometimes comes from paramilitary groups who threaten to take the abuse from the computer screen to the victims home.

Olga Paz Martinez, coordinator of the Take Back the Tech project in Colombia, tells such online violence is often directed against womens rights campaigners and in particular those who speak out about sexual violence against women.

Between 2009 and 2012, Colombian feminist organisation Mujeres Insumisas received a series of online threats about the run the latter are doing campaigning for womens rights. The abuse resulted through emails and mobile phone messages and at least three women working for the NGO were victims of sexual violence, harassment and stalking during this period, which they believed to be connected to the online abuse.

Women protest against discrimination and sexual violence on International Womens Day in Bogota earlier this month. Photograph: John Vizcaino/ Reuters

During this time, the NGO also received 12 threatening emails from paramilitary groups to ask them to stop their work. One email threatened different groups, saying we will not be respsonsible for what might happen to the leaders of these organisations … we have begun to exterminate each one of them without mercy.

The situation in Colombia is also complicated by a deeply-rooted cultural machismo, which prizes hierarchical the idea of gender and traditional household roles. In some cases of abuse against women who have spoken out against sexual violence, says Paz Martinez, the victims husband has been contacted and told to make your wife shut up or the abuse will continue.

In this culture, many women who are the victims of revenge pornography, return to their former partners or give in to other blackmail demands in order to protect their reputation and safety, tells Paz Martinez.

In 2008, a landmark piece of legislation was introduced in Colombia which addressed violence against women, but there is no specific mention of technology-related violence and the law is ill-equipped to help people who are the victims of online harassment and abuse. Kate Lyons


Shortly before Christmas in 2012, virtually 30 pupils were arrested during a full-scale riot outside a secondary school in Gothenburg, Swedens second city.

The spark for the brawl was an Instagram account, Sluts of Gothenburg, set up that week by two daughters aged 15 and 16, which asked people to send in photos of other local teenagers along with accusations about their sex history.

About 200 photograph, of both boys and girls, were published on the account. Many of the pictures were accompanied by names, and most included accusations of promiscuity.

At their subsequent trial in June 2013, the two girls were found guilty of libel, sentenced to juvenile detainees and community service, and ordered to pay 15,000 kr( 1,450) compensation to each of 38 victims identified by the court.

Police confronted youths in Gothenburg in December 2012 amid protests over the Sluts of Gothenburg Instagram account. Photo: AFP/ Getty Images

The case, which attracted massive media attention, is perhaps Swedens best-known incidence of online abuse and harassment and a rare example of successful prosecution by police and judicial authorities battling, campaigners say, inadequate legislation and technology they do not fully understand.

A study published in June 2015 by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention( NCCP) suggested that across all categories of online menaces, abuse and offensive behaviour, only 4% of complaints may result in prosecution, often because the incident does not constitute a criminal offence or, in more than 40% of cases, because of difficulties identifying perpetrators and obtaining proof.

The study found that the most common platform for online abuse was Facebook, particularly among young people. Among adults, abusive and threatening emails were also frequent.

The NCCP study found that men and boys were most often victims of offences that could be classified as libel( being described as a criminal, paedophile or rapist, for example) or threats to the person, while offences against women were mostly molestation( posting derogatory statements or sex images ).

Some 44% of incidents reported by women involved a present or former partner, while nearly half of those reported by children involved a friend or classmate. Only a third of all abuse was anonymous.

According to Angla Eklund, project director of the Institute of Law and Internet, a non-profit organisation set up to help victims of online abuse, part of the problem for authorities was that existing laws were often not up to the job.

For example, she said, the highest court in Sweden has ruled that publishing a naked or sexual image of a woman does not in itself constitute libel, which is defined as exposing someone to the disrespect of others it is normal for an adult to be sexually active.

A bill “ve been through” parliament to address many of these issues and make prosecution of online abuse easier. In the meantime, Eklunds institute, founded in 2013 by a leading statute professor, Morten Schultz, has pursued through the civil tribunals several examples that have failed to make it to criminal trial.

Suing people forces the system to confront the problem, Eklund told. But in the end, this is about information and education. People need to understand that the law will apply to abusive behaviour online just as it does offline. You cannot hide behind anonymity or a screen. Jon Henley


Australia has broad criminal laws that could be used to prosecute people for online abuse, but a consistent problem created is education across the board.

The most important federal statute that covers this area is an offence in the Criminal Code that attains it illegal to menace, harass or threaten utilizing a carriage service. This has been used to punish serious cases of abuse on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

Recently a 25 -year-old Australian man, Zane Alchin, was charged after allegedly inducing rape menaces on Facebook. It is alleged that Alchin stimulated security threats after one of his friends shared a Tinder profile of a woman on his Facebook page with an explicit caption, and an debate broke out on the social networking site. He has pleaded not guilty.

In Alchins case, the response from police, rather than the law itself, has raised bigger fears. The girl who constructed the complaint, Paloma Newton, told police were not responsive to her accusations and she was initially rebuffed by officers.

The training needs to be style better, she said. The policeman I spoke to didnt even have Facebook explaining to her the post, the reposting, the screenshotting, specific comments, was harder than it needed to be.

A 25 -year-old Australian has been charged after allegedly inducing rape threats on Facebook. Photograph: Karen Bleier/ AFP/ Getty Images

There is also a plethora of state and territory statutes that can operate in different circumstances. In some states, such as New South Wales, building threats is an offence in itself. Although mere words wont generally be considered assault, in some very serious cases they have been found by courts to be sufficient to constitute an offence.

Revenge pornography is a less clearly covered area in Australian statute. While two states Victoria and South Australia have introduced their own statutes to criminalise the sharing of intimate photos without consent, theres no federal statutes covering everyone.

In February, a Senate committee recommended the federal government introduce a national law to criminalise unauthorised sharing of intimate photos. Paul Farrell Sydney

Democratic Republic of Congo

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has staggeringly high rates of sexual violence, online abuse against girls is not taken seriously.

People see that you are still walking and able to do whatever you used to do, so there is a denial of emotional, psychological, moral ache. The only violence that is recognised as such is the cruellest and most visible sexual violence done in relation with armed conflicts, tells Francoise Mukuku, executive director of Si Jeunesse Savait, one of seven organisations that took its participation in Take Back the Tech research.

Despite this, problems with online harassment are significant in the country, in particular the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. Women and LGBT people are frequently aimed at providing abuse.

A rape victim in the Democratic Republic of Congo talks to a counsellor. High rates of sexual violence in the country means that online abuse is not taken seriously. Photo: KeystoneUS-AZUM/ Rex Shutterstock

There are no laws that specifically protect people against online harassment, and prosecution for these crimes is non-existent. The situation is constructed more difficult by corruption within the system, says Mukuku. She tells police officer will often ask women for bribes before taking on their occurrence and victims who report crimes to police risk being prosecuted for ruining the reputation of their attacker. Because of this, as well as a lack of understanding of the issues and fear for their reputation, most victims do not report abuse to the police.

One example of the absence of recourse available to victims was seen in the recent example of a young student who was filmed by her boyfriend, without her knowledge, while they were having sexuality. The video was then shared online and her family attained her flee the country out of disgrace. No prosecution was brought against the boyfriend, who has since graduated from university.

Campaigners want online abuse recognised as a significant issue. We want decision-makers to recognise that although online abuse might not cause actual physical harm in all instances, it can also cause significant emotional and psychological damage, as well as impact on issues such as mobility, employment and public participation, which are equally important factors to address, says Mukuku. Kate Lyons


In 2014, the journalist Amanda Hess chronicled her efforts to engage with the American criminal justice to objective two cases of cyberstalking. The first time she went to police, in 2009, it was after a reader began issuing graphic rape threats online and then escalated this to phone calls; the police refused to do anything unless the man constructing security threats proved up at her apartment.

She was eventually able to use a then-recent change to the law that allowed her to file for a civil protection order in family court. The order lasted for a year; he started to contact her again as soon as it expired.

American journalist Amanda Hess who has written about her experiences of being stalked online. Photograph: Social media

The second time, in 2013, an anonymous Twitter user promised her: You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. The police officer who arrived asked her to explain what Twitter was. Hess never found out if the anonymous Twitter user was her original harasser, or someone else.

These instances arent unique: there have been numerous cases of online harassment reported to police, including Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu and Rebecca Watson with little effect.

Research into online abuse by Pew in 2014 said that 40% of people had experienced some form of harassment on the internet and that young lady were among the most commonly targeted groups.

In June 2015, the US supreme court decided in favour of Anthony Elonis, who posted graphic depictions on Facebook of his desire to kill his estranged wife, saying they werent international crimes if he didnt intend to follow through and the trial hadnt established Elonis intent.

Prof Danielle Citron, an expert in statute and online harassment, told Fast Company that there was an small upside to Elonis win: It implicitly suggests that menaces online are no different[ than menaces stimulated via other interstate communication methods] which was not the case before the decision.

Thats little convenience to victims of online harassment, who still face uninterested or uninformed law enforcement officers when they report, a patchwork of laws that attains harassment difficult to prosecute across nation let alone international lines, and a civil process that is expensive and time-consuming even when it works at all.

Citron suggested a few solutions, including making sure that laws are technology and platform agnostic; letting prosecutors to present to judges and juries a totality of the abuse; and increasing penalties for those working convicted. Megan Carpentier New York

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Meniga helps incumbent banks keep fintech fear at bay

A VC once told him that fear was the best marketings tool ever fabricated. That was in reference to the hockey stick growth his cybersecurity startup was seeing, thanks to a raft of tales in the media considering high profile cases of companies being hacked. But might the same be said of banks and the pending threat of fintech? Arguably, they have much to fear.

From having some of the most lucrative and low-hanging parts of their business unbundled by upstarts, such as TransferWise( money transfer ), Nutmeg( savings ), and PensionBee( pensions ), to out right challenger banks that are re-inventing the current account and will lend out client deposits in the form of overdrafts, a business model at the core of traditional banking.

And then there is the biggest elephant in the room: big tech companies. If fintech is really about monetising access to a consumers financial data access that the banks are being forced to provide by upcoming EU and U.K. open banking regulation the likes of Google, Facebook, and, to a lesser extent, Apple and Amazon, cant afford not to jump onboard the fintech train.

Enter Meniga, a London-headquartered fintech startup, with R& D in Iceland, that offer digital banking technology to some of the worlds largest banks. Its various products include a software layer that bridges the gap between a banks legacy tech infrastructure and a modern API, building it easier to build consumer-friendly digital banking experiences on top and to comply with upcoming regulation such as PSD2.

Those new digital banking experiences typically show up in a banks mobile app and include things like personal finance director functionality, a Facebook-esque activity feed to help customers keep track of their expenditures, or the new Fitbit-inspired Challenges module, a kind of fiscal health tracker that harnesses social and gamification to gently nudge a banks customers into better budgeting.

Todays banks are under pressure to innovate and be enhanced their client experiences online and yet they are beholden to legacy processes and legacy systems and are usually ill equipped to provide their clients with world class user experience in digital banking, Meniga co-founder and CEO Georg Ludviksson tells me.

Meniga has built a reputation as a strong invention partner to banks and its software solutions help some of the worlds largest banks utilise their data to make their online and mobile banking more personalised and inspiring.

Ludvikssons coining of Meniga as an innovation partner to banks isnt simply startup speak , nor is it bluster( the Meniga founder talks in soft, considered Icelandic tones ). The company holds five-day onsite design sprints with its banking clients, and last year it conducted more than 80 user testing conferences in four countries again, many of them in partnership with the banks.

In addition, Meniga operates what Ludviksson tells is a unique sandpit concept that assures the fintech startup offer a direct to consumer product for Icelanders that serves as a testing ground for product testing and R& D that in turn benefits its clients. Its a website with free personal finance tools with over 30 per cent of all Icelandic households registered. The sites users are customers from all walkings of life with every personality type, he says.

Meniga is also working with banks to introduce new data-driven services and business models. The idea is to enable digital banking users to better understand, manage and make the most of their fund by providing personal finance tools, insights and tailored offers, such as via its card-linked offers product for merchants.

Its a classic data play: devote us access to your fiscal data and well give you something of value in return. Banks, after all, sit on a heck of a lot of data, which they rarely do a good job of exploit, for their own benefit or that of their customers. Meniga is helping to change that, whilst the task of trying to persuade banks to espouse a digital-first way of thinking before a new or old competitor does, is becoming a lot easier.

Meanwhile, the company, which counts the likes of Santander, Intesa, Commerzbank, ING Direct, and mBank as clients, has shut 7.5 million in new funding, bringing total raised to 21 million since being founded in 2009. The round was led by Nordic VC Industrifonden, with participation from existing investors Velocity Capital, Frumtak Ventures and Kjolfesta.

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‘Hidden’ Celiac Disease Is Becoming Less Of A Problem In The U.S.

( Reuters Health)- – Fewer people in the U.S. have celiac illnes without realizing it, a new examine finds.

The actual proportion of people with celiac illnes in the United States has not changed since 2009, researchers say.

“The total prevalence is stable, ” Dr. Joseph Murray told Reuters Health in a phone interview. But there are fewer people walking around with “hidden” celiac disease.

“When you look at the proportion that are diagnosed versus undiagnosed, that’s gone up dramatically. Run back six years and most patients were undiagnosed, with merely about one in five getting diagnosed, ” told Murray, a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota who was part of the study team.

“This increase in proportion diagnosed could be a reflection of increasing awareness of celiac cancer, ” told Murray.

It’s also possible that people are getting the diagnosis more readily due to more wide utilize of testing, he said.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects roughly one of every 100 people in the U.S. People with celiac illnes must avoid foods that contain the gluten protein from wheat, barley or rye; otherwise, their immune system assaults their intestines, resulting in malnutrition and a host of other problems.

As reported in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Murray and his colleagues analyzed data regarding the large National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, also known as NHANES, from 2009 to 2014. Altogether, they had datum, including blood exam results, on more than 22,000 participants over the age of six.

On average, about 0.7 percentage of the study population had been diagnosed with celiac disease throughout the study period. The proportion of undiagnosed cases of celiac cancer dropped in half during that time, from 0.6 percentage to 0.3 percent.

As has been reported before, the proportion of participants who followed a gluten-free diet without a celiac diagnosis jumped from 0.5 percentage in 2009 to 1.7 percentage in 2014.

Murray said the research wasn’t designed to show why gluten-free diets became a trend, because when they schemed such studies almost ten years ago, there is wasn’t a style for being gluten free.

“That has now changed. In fact, that’s changed dramatically. Now( when people) feel something wrong with them, they think,’ Oh it could’ve been food, ’( and) one of the first things they’ll think about is gluten, ’” Murray said.

Murray considers nothing wrong with following a gluten free diet when patients don’t have celiac illnes, but he thinks they need to be open to the possibility that it’s not going to work.

“Try it but do it for a month and be honest in terms of’ do I feel dramatically better and if I do, is it still dramatically better a month and then 2 months later, ’” Murray told. “If it doesn’t work and it doesn’t stay working, don’t keep at it. And then if it does keep working, then try a gluten challenge and see what happens to be certain that gluten is a real culprit.”

Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl, the director of clinical research at The Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in New York, told Reuters Health the findings are a departure from the longstanding problem of having many undiagnosed patients.

Lebwohl, who wasn’t to participate in such studies, said by email, “The numbers of patients are small, and this was only complied with in the most recent two-year period, but if corroborated it may mark a turning point in our efforts to increase awareness and identify patients with celiac disease.”

SOURCE: http :// 2iF0r0t Mayo Clinic Proceedings, online December 22, 2016.

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Schemed Parenthood and the dangerous rhetoric of dislike

Violence against abortion providers is not new, but the shooting that took place at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs on Friday reminded us of the animosity that fuels the kind of reaction we insured from many pro-lifers.

We still dont know enough about the shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, and his motives, but sources tell that he told examiners No more newborn components after his arrest and expressed anti-abortion and anti-government opinions. Of course, its possible that he only happens to hold those views( as do many in the United States) and the shooting was motivated by something else altogether.

Whatever reason Dear decided to carry out this senseless act of violence, some pro-lifers were quick to cheer him on 😛 TAGEND

Anna Jones’s homemade ricotta recipe and three things to cook with it | The modern cook

Its easy to induce your own ricotta from scratch. Its ideal for a gentle herb and citrus dip, as the main attraction on a tray of honey-baked figs, or stirred through a plate of spicy spaghetti with chard, garlic and herbs

There is so much to love about ricotta. First up, its clean, fresh cloud-like milkiness many of us think of it as a spring-time thing, but in fact, it works brilliantly as a much needed partner for the roots and roasteds and punchier flavours well be feeing for the next few months. Next, its versatility in baking and desserts; to fill ravioli or spoon over warm vegetables. Best of all, though, is that its made from something that would otherwise be wasted. The ricotta that you buy in the shops is a byproduct of the cheesemaking process. Whey that has been drained off the cheese curds is reheated to make ricotta hence its Italian name, which means recooked.

My recipe involves gently heating whole milk, then adding vinegar to foster little curds to form, which are then gathered and strained to form the softest and most gentle of the cheeses. Ive tried lemon juice, but vinegar somehow creates more ricotta. The quantity of vinegar is key, too little and the curds wont form properly; too much and the end result will savor like a chip shop. Because this recipe is so simple there is nowhere to hide, so use the best milk that you can afford( the best ricotta Ive tasted was attained in Italy using raw, unpasteurised milk, but thats not as widely available in the UK ).

Some recipes require a certain type of ricotta. The form you can buy in most supermarkets can be very soft, more mascarpone-like in texture than the firmer, strained ricotta I got used to working with when I cooked in Italy. Thats why I started attaining my own and Id urge you to try too its not as difficult as you might suppose. If thats a step too far though, you can attain the recipes below with supermarket ricotta. If you do, then leave it in a sieve to drain excess liquid for a few hours, or ideally overnight, so its a little firmer. If youre lucky enough to live near an Italian deli, most sell a good strained ricotta.

As well as a recipe for homemade ricotta, I have included three of my favourite simple ways to eat it. Aside from these almost any pasta would benefit from a little ricotta stirred through it, any flapjack or waffle will sit blithely next to a spoonful, and most fruits will team up well with a clean white helping drizzled with a little honey.

straining The type of ricotta available in most supermarkets can be very soft. Strained ricotta is firmer, and much closer to what is available in Italy. Photo: Matt Russell for the Guardian

Homemade ricotta

How long you hang your ricotta for will depend on how you want to use it. To cook your ricotta whole or to use it to fill pasta you want something firm, so no moisture seeps out during cooking. For other recipes, such as the pasta or the whipped ricotta below, you could get away with a less firm texture, so hanging it for just a few hours would suffice.

Makes about 300 g
2 litres whole milk
A pinch of ocean salt
40ml distilled white vinegar

1 Pour the milk into a large pan, add a pinch of sea salt and put over a medium heat. Let the milk to heat up slowly, stirring from time to time.

2 When it is almost coming to the boil when steam and small bubbles begin to appear on the surface( if you have a kitchen thermometer it should be 82 C-8 5C) remove from the heat, add the vinegar and stir gently. You will see curds starting to form. Continue to stir for 1 minute or so.

3 Cover with a clean cloth and allow it to sit for a couple of hours. Once the ricotta has rested, line a colander with a large piece of damp muslin and set this over a larger bowl or pan.

4 Spoon the ricotta into the colander and allow it to drain for an hour or so, or overnight depending on your desired firmness( see note above ). To test whether the cheese is ready, gently lift the muslin up by the corners and twist lightly the liquid should be slightly milky in colouring. The ricotta is now ready. Transfer to a receptacle, seal and store in the fridge and use within 3 days.

Whipped herb and lemon ricotta

Quick and super-light, this mix of herbs and ricotta is ideal for dipping. I use baby vegetables, but thumbs of good toast or crackers would work too.

Serves 4
450g fresh ricotta
Salt and black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed or grated
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus a good squeezing of lemon juice
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more to serve

To serve
Baby carrots, beetroots and radishes, cut into sticks

1 Put your ricotta into a bowl with a good pinch of salt and pepper, then beat it with a wooden spoonful until light and fluffy. You can do this with an electric mixer if you want it genuinely cloud-like.

2 Now stir in the garlic, herbs, zest and olive oil. Taste for balance and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, adding a squeeze of lemon juice and a little more of whatever you think it needs.

3 Serve in the middle of the table with your selection of veg or toast for dipping.

4 Drizzle with some olive oil and serve.

Honey ricotta with baked figs

This is a faintly sweet take on ricotta that could be served as a dessert or a quick lunch, piled on top of toasted bread with some bitter leaves to counter the very slight sweetness.

Honey Any leftovers can be spread on warm toast the next day. Photograph: Matt Russell for the Guardian

Serves 4-6
250g ricotta
1 tbsp of runny honey
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
1 orange, zested, juice reserved
6 figs
50g almonds

1 Preheat your oven to 180 C/ 350 F/ gas mark 4. Line a baking tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper.

2 Turn the ricotta out of its packet on to the lined tray, then drizzle it with honey. Grate over the orange zest and scatter the vanilla seeds on top.

3 Halve the figs and arrange them around the ricotta. Squeeze over the juice of the orange and a little more honey then put into the oven to bake for 20 minutes.

4 Meanwhile, approximately chop the almonds. Scatter them over the baking tray and roast for the last five minutes.

5 Serve straight from the oven in the middle of the table.

Spaghetti with chard, garlic, chilli and ricotta

One of the fastest pastas I know( the sauce is cooked in the time it takes for the pasta to turning al dente) and for my money one of the nicest.

Serves 4
400g spaghetti
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
12 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
400g chard, rinsed foliages shredded and stubbles finely sliced
Grated zest and juice of 1 large unwaxed lemon( plus an extra lemon for juice, if needed)
Salt and black pepper
150g of ricotta
Parmesan or pecorino( optional)

1 Put a large pan of boiling water on to boil and add a couple of generous pinches of salt. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add your pasta and cook according to the packet instructions or until merely al dente.

2 Meanwhile, hot a good drizzle of olive oil in a large frying pan and add the garlic, chilli and rosemary. Fry for a minute or so, until the garlic is starting to colour, then add the chard stalks and sizzle for 1-2 minutes. Add the leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 34 minutes, or until the foliages have wilted a little.

3 Drain the pasta, reserving a mugful of cooking water. Add a splashing of the pasta water to the greens and mixture well. Grate over the zest of the lemon and squeeze over the juice. Take off the heat and taste for seasoning. Crumble over the ricotta and stir it though. Serve topped with a drizzle of olive oil and, if you like, a wispy grating of parmesan or pecorino.

Anna Jones is a chef, novelist and writer of A Modern Way to Eatand
A Modern Way to Cook( Fourth Estate );; @we_are_food