Online harassment has gotten so bad these days, it can feel like every person who dares tread into social media waters is getting verbally attacked or ridiculed. Of course, some people face worse harassment than others, and a new report from the Pew Research Center reveals who is getting harassed online, how much, and in what ways.
For the purposes of the survey, Pew defined harassment as: “Offensive name-calling, purposeful embarrassment, physical threats, harassment over a sustained period of time, sexual harassment, or stalking.” According to the report, most online harassment happens on social media (no shock there). Pew finds that 41 percent of American adults have experienced harassment online, and even more, 66 percent, have witnessed someone else getting harassed. The overall number of adults reporting online harassment is up six percent from 2014.
When you look at millennial adults, the number of people who have experienced harassment skyrockets. Among young adults ages 18 to 29, a whopping 67 percent reported that they have been harassed online — a rate three times higher than adults over 29. This makes sense, given that young adults use social media more than older adults.
Of course, the study also examined harassment and gender. Surprisingly, men reported more harassment than women. Of the men who participated in the survey, 44 percent reported being harassed online, compared to 37 percent of women. However, women are significantly more likely to experience sexual harassment online. One-fifth of the women surveyed said they have been sexually harassed online. Alarmingly, more than half of women said they have been sent explicit images without their consent.
Online harassment is clearly a very prevalent issue, and thankfully, most people want to see something done about it. About three in five Americans agree that online harassment is a “major problem,” and nearly the same amount, 64 percent, believe that social media platforms should play a “major role” in ameliorating harassment issues. Further, 79 percent of those surveyed said that online platforms have a responsibility to address harassment that occurs on their platforms.
In fact, the platforms themselves are the only ones who can truly intervene regularly and in meaningful ways to stop harassment. Laws about online harassment are still relatively new, and law enforcement generally doesn’t know how to enforce them. To make things more difficult, the Supreme Court in 2015 voided a federal court decision to sentence a man who violently threatened his wife on Facebook, saying they did not constitute “true threats,” Fast Company reported at the time.
In recent years, major social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have responded to public concern about harassment, mostly by creating tools to report harassment or abusive accounts, and updating their policies to more explicitly define what is and isn’t allowed. Twitter, for example, announced in March that they were taking new measures to prevent people who have been suspended from Twitter from creating new accounts, and hiding or collapsing potentially abusive or inappropriate tweets.
But given that most young adults (the majority of social media users) are still getting harassed despite various changes and updates from social media sites, it’s clear there’s still a lot of work to be done.
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