41% of Americans have been harassed online, according to a new survey released earlier this month by the Pew Research Center.
“But nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) have been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking,” says the Center. “…and an even larger share (66%) has witnessed these behaviors directed at others.”
The results of the Pew Center survey were released July 11.
“For those who experience online harassment directly, these encounters can have profound real-world consequences, ranging from mental or emotional stress to reputational damage or even fear for one’s personal safety,” says Pew. “At the same time, harassment does not have to be experienced directly to leave an (effect).”
Pew points out how online harassment can change internet users’ behavior, intimidate them. Others, says the center, see harassment online and choose to act against it.
“Around one-quarter of Americans (27%) say they have decided not to post something online after witnessing the harassment of others, while more than one-in-ten (13%) say they have stopped using an online service after witnessing other users engage in harassing behaviors,” Pew explains further. “At the same time, some bystanders to online harassment take an active role in response: Three-in-ten Americans (30%) say they have intervened in some way after witnessing abusive behavior directed toward others online.”
The relative anonymity of some of the social media platforms grants thugs and bullies something of a license to be mean to others.
“Frequently these behaviors target a personal or physical characteristic: 14% of Americans say they have been harassed online specifically because of their politics, while roughly one-in-ten have been targeted due to their physical appearance (9%), race or ethnicity (8%) or gender (8%),” Pew says.
The Center says the rate of online harassment has increased since it last conducted a survey on the topic, up from 35% who said in 2014 they had experienced harassment online.
“A majority of Americans (62%) view online harassment as a major problem, and nearly eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say online services have a duty to step in when harassment occurs on their platforms,” says Pew. “On the other hand, they are highly divided on how to balance concerns over safety with the desire to encourage free and open speech – as well as whether offensive content online is taken too seriously or dismissed too easily.”
The Pew Center survey suggests, too, younger adults tend to be harassed more than older adults.
“Fully 67% of 18- to 29-year-olds have been the target of any of these behaviors, including 41% who have experienced some type of severe harassment online,” wrote Pew. “At the same time, harassment is increasingly a fact of online life for Americans in other age groups. Nearly half of 30- to 49-year olds (49%) have personally experienced any form of online harassment (an increase of 10 percentage points since 2014), as have 22% of Americans ages 50 and older (an increase of 5 points over the same time period).”
Political views expressed online tend to bring out the trolls, said Pew, but gender, physical appearance and race also make bullies react and torment others.
“Some 14% of U.S. adults say they have ever been harassed online specifically because of their political views, while roughly one-in-ten have been targeted due to their physical appearance (9%), race (8%) or gender (8%),” Pew explained. “Somewhat smaller shares have been targeted for other reasons, such as their religion (5%) or sexual orientation (3%).
“Certain groups are more likely than others to experience this sort of trait-based harassment,” said Pew. “For instance, one-in-four (African-Americans) say they have been targeted with harassment online because of their race or ethnicity, as have one-in-ten Hispanics. The share among whites is lower (3%). Similarly, women are about twice as likely as men to say they have been targeted as a result of their gender (11% vs. 5%). Men, however, are around twice as likely as women to say they have experienced harassment online as a result of their political views (19% vs. 10%). Similar shares of Democrats and Republicans say they have been harassed online as a result of their political leanings.”