Social Networks Continue to Battle Online Harassment, But … (Report)

58 percent of online harassment targets said their most recent incident occurred on a social media platform

Despite countless measures adopted by social networks to combat online harassment, a new study from Pew Research Center found that it is still “a common feature of life online.”

Pew surveyed 4,248 U.S. adults and found that 41 percent of them have personally experienced online harassment, while 66 percent have witnessed it occurring.

Those who experienced it were victims of the following behavior:

  • 27 percent: offensive name-calling
  • 22 percent: purposeful efforts to embarrass them
  • 10 percent: physical threats
  • 7 percent: harassment over a sustained period of time
  • 6 percent: sexual harassment

Pew found that 62 percent of Americans believe online harassment is a major problem, and many of them believe online companies and platforms, including social networks, should be doing more to fight it:

  • 35 percent believe better policies and tools from online companies are the most effective way to address online harassment.
  • 79 percent believe online services have a responsibility to step in when harassing behavior occurs on their platforms.
  • 43 percent do not believe law enforcement takes online harassment seriously enough.
  • 49 percent believe law enforcement should play a “major role” in addressing these issues.

Other findings by Pew included:

  • 58 percent of online harassment targets said their most recent incident occurred on a social media platform.
  • 67 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 have experience some form of online harassment, compared with one-third of those 30 and older.
  • Men (44 percent) are more likely than women (37 percent) to experience online harassment, but when it comes to sexual harassment, women—particularly younger women—are more likely targets.
  • 21 percent of women 18 through 29 have been sexually harassed online, while 53 percent have been sent explicit images they did not ask for.
  • 45 percent of Americans believe it is more important to let people speak their minds freely online, while 53 percent feel that it is more important for people to feel welcome and safe online.
  • 56 percent believe people take offensive content online too seriously, while 43 percent say it is too often dismissed as “not a big deal.”
  • 14 percent of respondents were harassed online over political views, while other personal traits or characteristics included physical appearance (9 percent), race or ethnicity (8 percent) and gender (8 percent).
  • Respondents believe anonymity empowers those engaging in harassing behavior, as 54 percent of those who personally experienced online harassment said their most recent incident involved a stranger or someone whose identity they did not know, while 89 percent of respondents overall feel that the ability to post anonymously online enables people to be cruel or harass one another.

Pew Research Center research associate Maeve Duggan, author of the report, said in a release:

The issue of online harassment is more complicated than first meets the eye. Americans simultaneously want concrete solutions and safe spaces online, but they’re protective of free expression. And given the spectrum of documented experiences with online harassment—from the mild to the severe—people sense there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy.