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Survey reveals the hard facts about online harassment

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Online harassment is not something any of us can turn a blind eye towards. The Internet has become an integral part of society, and most of us live some part of our lives on the digital stage. By your action or inaction, you are either contributing to the spread of- or exposure of online harassment. Your silence on the topic affirms the behavior of those who abuse the Internets borderless design. Pew Research did a survey on online harassment, and it paints a grim picture of especially women and severe online abuse. As many of you've told me in my previous articles about online harassment, men are not excluded. The Pew Research survey breaks down all the different ratios, the circumstances under which online abuse occurs and the type of harassment. Please note that the survey is not about gaming related harassment, but all online harassment.

Here are the findings.

Who are targeted for online harassment?

  1. Young adults, those 18-29, are more likely than any other demographic group to experience online harassment. Fully 65% of young internet users have been the target of at least one of the six elements of harassment that were queried in the survey. Among those 18-24, the proportion is 70%.
  2. Young women, those 18-24, experience certain severe types of harassment at disproportionately high levels: 26% of these young women have been stalked online, and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment. In addition, they do not escape the heightened rates of physical threats and sustained harassment common to their male peers and young people in general.

Let's talk ratios

The following statistics show that men are more likely to experience some form of online harassment, but the harassment that women experience is far more severe. Women are exposed to almost double the percentage of sexual harassment than men. Men are more likely than women to encounter name-calling, embarrassment, and physical threats, and women stalking and sexual harassment.

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Where does harassment occur?

  • 66% of internet users who have experienced online harassment said their most recent incident occurred on a social networking site or app
  • 22% mentioned the comments section of a website
  • 16% said online gaming
  • 16% said in a personal email account
  • 10% mentioned a discussion site such as reddit
  • 6% said on an online dating website or app

 Types of online harassment witnessed

  •  60% of internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names
  • 53% had seen efforts to purposefully embarrass someone
  • 25% had seen someone being physically threatened
  • 24% witnessed someone being harassed for a sustained period of time
  • 19% said they witnessed someone being sexually harassed
  • 18% said they had seen someone be stalked

Types of online harassment experienced

  • 27% of internet users have been called offensive names
  • 22% have had someone try to purposefully embarrass them
  • 8% have been physically threatened
  • 8% have been stalked
  • 7% have been harassed for a sustained period
  • 6% have been sexually harassed

How do people respond to online harassment?

  • 47% of those who responded to their most recent incident with online harassment confronted the person online
  • 44% unfriended or blocked the person responsible
  • 22% reported the person responsible to the website or online service
  • 18% discussed the problem online to draw support for themselves
  • 13% changed their username or deleted their profile
  • 10% withdrew from an online forum
  • 8% stopped attending certain offline events or places
  • 5% reported the problem to law enforcement

 Other Findings

  • 38%, said a stranger was responsible for their most recent incident of online harassment
  • 26% said they didn’t know the real identity of the person or people involved
  • 60% decided to ignore their most recent incident of online harassment
  • 40% took steps to respond to pro-actively in stopping the harassment
  • 47% of those who responded to their most recent incident with online harassment confronted the person online
  • 44% unfriended or blocked the person responsible
  • 22% reported the person responsible to the website or online service
  • 18% discussed the problem online to draw support for themselves
  • 13% changed their username or deleted their profile
  • 10% withdrew from an online forum
  • 8% stopped attending certain offline events or places
  • 5% reported the problem to law enforcement

How do you really feel about online harassment? Have you experienced it yourself? Do you think more should be done to police it? What do you do when you see an act of online abuse? If you're a parent, how do you feel about the online world your kids are exposed to?

About this survey

Data in this report are drawn from the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, a probability-based, nationally representative panel. This survey was conducted May 30 – June 30, 2014 and self-administered via the internet by 2,849 web users, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points. For more information on the American Trends Panel, please see the Methods section at the end of this report.

Read more about online harassment

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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