Online harassment – anything from Facebook name-calling to hours of invasive search in an effort to find and share a person’s private information – is as common as a hype man in a pop song (and given approximately the same amount of attention). According to a study by the Pew Research Center an astonishing 73% of internet users have witnessed some form of online harassment while 40% have experienced it directly. With millions of people of all ages accessing the internet daily, those are some pretty significant numbers, but I’m honestly surprised they aren’t higher. It appears that 27% of internet users aren’t reading the comments on Youtube videos.
The Pew Research Center asked participants to rate their experience with six different kinds of online harassment – offensive name calling, deliberate embarrassment/shaming, physical threats, sustained/long-term harassment, sexual harassment, and stalking. These responses were split into two categories: those from individuals who had experienced the abuse directly and those from individuals who had witnessed abuse. Take away numbers from the witness reports include that 60% of internet users have witnessed name calling and 53% had witnessed deliberate attempts to embarrass another user. From the actively harassed side, 27% of people reported having been called names and 22% reported that another user had tried to embarrass or shame them. Interestingly, 19% of individuals report having witnessed someone sexually harassed online whereas only 6% of users surveyed reported having been sexually harassed which leads me to believe there were not many women surveyed. I’m not a statistician, so this is just a rough estimate, but I would venture that 100% of the women I interact with online have witnessed sexual harassment with another 100% of them being direct recipients. I guess I just know a bunch of sexy ladies (excuse me, has anyone seen my eyes? They just rolled out of my head).
Based on their findings, the Pew Research Center classified online harassment into two categories: wildly inappropriate and totally unacceptable. Just kidding. The first category is the really annoying but ultimately “somewhat less severe” harassment found in the form of name calling and user shaming. This form of harassment is so insignificant that many users simply choose to ignore it. The second affects a much smaller number of internet users but features significantly bolder and more severe harassment. This form includes physical threats, long-term harassment, stalking, and sexual harassment. According to Pew’s findings, “of those who have been harassed online, 55% (or 22% of all internet users) have exclusively experienced the “less severe” kinds of harassment while 45% (or 18% of all internet users) have fallen victim to any of the “more severe” kinds of harassment.”
To some, these numbers may seem low thus making online harassment something we shouldn’t waste time worrying over . I would argue that the fact that anyone is able to report an instance of harassment means that this is exactly something we should worry over. There is no excuse for any person to feel attacked and threatened in an online setting. Just because it HAPPENS does not mean we have to expect it or accept it. There is a monumental difference between a positive disagreement and negative discourse. If the only reason you wish to respond to someone’s online presence is to make them feel bad, log off and take a nap. You need a break and the rest of us want to get back to using the internet without worrying about your sour attitude.