Source of article The Jury Room - Keene Trial Consulting.

This issue has been the banner of a number of well-known male bloggers who encourage their readers to pile on [with their generally anonymous screen names] when commenters do not agree with the blogger.

These bloggers make comments like, “it’s my blog and I make the rules” to justify boorish behavior. Granted. We don’t choose to interact with bullies—online or otherwise. We have been the subject of the entire spectrum of comment for our writing over the years of The Jury Room, including bizarre and wildly over-the-top trash-talking from a few other bloggers. We do not like it. We ignore it. We move on–as does our readership.

So we were glad to see this article released by the Pew Research Center on Online Harassment in 2017. The really good news is, they released a survey on the same topic in 2014 and so can compare some of the data to see if online harassment is increasing. In a word? Yes. Pew begins by introducing the problem of online harassment this way:

To borrow an expression from the technology industry, harassment is now a “feature” of life online for many Americans. In its milder forms, it creates a layer of negativity that people must sift through as they navigate their daily routines online. At its most severe, it can compromise users’ privacy, force them to choose when and where to participate online, or even pose a threat to their physical safety.

As usual, Pew offers information on just whom they surveyed. In this case, they surveyed 4,248 nationally representative US adults and found that 41% have been harassed themselves and 66% have witnessed the harassment of others online. In some cases, the behaviors are nuisance behaviors like name-calling or efforts to embarrass someone, but 18% of Americans (that is, nearly 1 in 5) “have been subjected to particular severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment, or stalking”.

Social media platforms are an especially harassment-prone area but there are multiple places survey respondents report they have been harassed. Most of them believe harassment is facilitated by the anonymity offered by the internet (and, we would add, the frequent use of pseudonyms). Here are a few of the numbers Pew offers on how many Americans have experienced harassment.

41% of respondents [increased from 35% in 2014] have been personally subjected to at least one type of online harassment: 27% were called offensive names, 22% say efforts were made to intentionally embarrass them, 10% were physically threatened, and 6% reported sexual harassment. The 41% total includes those who’ve experienced particularly severe forms of harassment (Pew defines this as stalking, physical threats, sexual harassment, or harassment over a sustained period of time).

Young adults (aged 18-29) are especially singled out for harassment (67% have been harassed—41% severely). At the same time, 30-49 years olds experience harassment frequently as well (49%—up 10% since 2014). Americans age 50 and older report harassment at a lower rate (22% also up 5% since 2014).

Harassment online is typically very personal. 14% reported being harassed for political views, 9% for their physical appearance, 8% for their race or gender, 5% for their religion, and 3% for sexual orientation.

When we look at specific racial groups, 25% of Blacks have been harassed online for race or ethnicity as have 10% of Hispanics. The number among Whites is much lower at 3%. In terms of gender, women (11%) are twice as likely as men (5%) to report having been targeted as a result of gender.

62% of Americans see online harassment as a major problem and only 5% think it is not at all a problem. There are significant gender differences of opinion that Pew addresses in detail when it comes to the problems with online harassment. There are also significant differences among those who have been severely harassed (regardless of gender) and these differences include serious emotional distress and damage to their reputations.

These are good things to review at the report itself to help you understand how the exact same behavior is perceived so very differently based on both gender and experiences online. There is also disagreement on who should manage online civility. Some think it is the responsibility of online services while others think the services should just offer better tools to help people address harassment online. Still others think bystanders witnessing abusive behavior online should play a direct role in stopping it.

In addition to the actual survey, Pew also includes a Q&A article explaining how and why they chose to study online harassment. If you are interested in a brief summary rather than reading the entire article (which isn’t that long), they also have a key points summation.

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