Online harassment: it’s who you know – at least that’s the suggestion from the most recent Pew Research Center survey.
The survey’s data, published in mid-July, indicates nearly half of all American victims of online harassment actually know – as friends, acquaintances or family members – the person who is threatening them, trying to intimidate them, cursing them and bullying them online.
The research flies in the face of the prevailing wisdom which suggests it is the relative anonymity of the digital world, even the social media in particular, which leads to the rising problem of online harassment. People will be bullies online, suggests the prevailing wisdom, because they can hide behind some fake online persona.
“About one-in-four Americans (26%) who have been harassed online say an acquaintance was behind their most recent incident, according to a recent Pew Research Center report,” explains the center. “And in other cases, targets of online abuse are even more familiar with their harassers: 18% of those who have been harassed say their most recent incident involved a friend, while 11% say it involved a family member. Smaller shares say their most recent experience involved a former romantic partner (7%) or a co-worker (5%).
“Taken together, nearly half of Americans (46%) who have experienced some form of online harassment say they know the person or persons responsible for their most recent incident – the same as the share (46%) who say their harasser was a stranger or someone whose real identity was unknown to them. (The remaining 8% were harassed by people both known and unknown to them.)”
The research suggests the degree or severity of online harassment varies little between people known or unknown to the victims. But the effects of that harassment vary greatly.
“Those who know their harasser tend to be more deeply affected by their experience and to express greater concerns for their safety,” said Pew. “Among those harassed online by someone they know, 34% describe their most recent incident as extremely or very upsetting – twice the share among those who say their harasser was unknown to them (17%). Additionally, people harassed online by someone they know are roughly three times as likely to say they felt a threat of physical danger to themselves or people close to them during their most recent incident (17% vs. 5%).”
And, says Pew, victims of online harassment aren’t necessarily going to take the abuse sitting down.
“A majority of both groups say they simply ignored their most recent incident of online abuse,” explained the center. “But slightly larger shares of those who are familiar rather than unfamiliar with their harasser say they did respond in some way (45% vs. 34%). Among people who chose to respond, those who were harassed by someone known to them were especially likely to say they confronted the person face-to-face or over the phone (28% vs. 1% among those who did not know their harasser), changed their username or deleted an online profile (15% vs. 3%), or stopped going to offline events or places (11% vs. 3%).”
The Pew research also suggests those who know the bully threatening or trying to intimidate them are more likely to seek help and support from others.
“(Fifty-five percent) sought out some type of help or support during their most recent incident, compared with 31% of those who were harassed by a stranger or someone anonymous,” suggested the center. “This group is especially likely to turn to other friends or family members for support: 39% did so after their most recent encounter, compared with 16% of those whose harasser was unknown to them.”