A new survey says a whopping 41 percent of U.S. adults have experienced online harassment, ranging from offensive name-calling to stalking and sexual harassment.
That’s up from 35 percent in 2014.
The Pew Research Center said Tuesday that 66 percent of respondents have witnessed other people being harassed. While some people’s experiences could be “shrugged off” as a nuisance, Pew said, some 18 percent said they were subjected to “severe” forms of harassment. This included physical threats, stalking and harassment over a sustained period.
The vitriol of the 2016 presidential election has brought the issue to the forefront for many people. In fact, 14 percent of respondents said they have been harassed online specifically because of their political views.
Key findings in the report:
- Four-in-ten U.S. adults have personally experienced harassing or abusive behavior online; 18% have been the target of severe behaviors such as physical threats, sexual harassment
- Harassment is often focused on personal or physical characteristics; political views, gender, physical appearance and race are among the most common
- Americans are widely aware of the issue of online harassment, and 62% consider it a major problem; online companies are seen as key actors in addressing online harassment
- Americans are divided on the issues of free speech and political correctness that underlie the online harassment debate
- Experiences and attitudes toward online harassment vary significantly by gender
- Harassment exists on a spectrum of severity: Those who have experienced severe forms of online harassment differ sharply in their reactions and attitudes
- Online harassment is often subjective – even to those experiencing the worst of it
- Two-thirds of Americans have witnessed abusive or harassing behavior toward others online
- Anonymity is seen as a facilitating factor in encouraging the spread of harassment online
Twitter and other online companies have promised to crack down on abuse.
On Monday, for example, Twitter introduced new controls aimed at curbing harassment — or at least preventing the targets of abuse from seeing what is said about them. Now, users can disable notifications when someone they don’t know tweets about them. Still, this doesn’t necessarily remove the abuse from Twitter — just hides it from those who are targeted.
Pew’s report called social media an “especially fertile ground” for online harassment and found that 79 percent of respondents think online services have a “duty” to step in when abuse occurs on their platforms.
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