Stories about online harassment have been in the headlines for years. Alongside the more serious cases of persistent aggressive abuse that make the news, and defamation and belittling of titles, satirical comments have become describing the number of people who view speech online – especially in the political realm.
A Pew Research Center survey of adults in the United States in September found that 41% of Americans had personally experienced some form of online harassment in at least one of the six main methods measured. Although the general prevalence of this type of abuse is the same as it was in 2017, there has been evidence of increased online harassment since then.
First of all, an increasing number of Americans report experiencing more serious forms of harassment, which include physical threats, stalking, sexual harassment, and constant harassment. About 15% suffered from these problems in 2014, and a little more (18%) said the same in 2017.1 This group has risen to 25% today. Additionally, those who experienced online abuse are more likely today to report their recent experience of more diverse types and more serious forms of online abuse.
In a political environment in which Americans are subjected to tension, frustration, and growing hate, websites on the Internet often act as platforms for highly contentious or even very aggressive political debate. And for those who have experienced online abuse, politics is cited as the main reason why they think they are being targeted.
In fact, 20% of Americans overall – representing half of those who have experienced online harassment – say they have experienced online harassment for their political views. This is a marked increase from three years ago, when 14% of Americans said they were targeted for this reason. Aside from politics, more also cites their gender or racial and ethnic background as reasons to believe they have experienced online harassment.
While these types of negative confrontations may happen anywhere online, social media is by far the most common location for harassment – a consistent pattern across the center’s work over the years on the topic. The latest survey found that 75% of targets of online abuse – equivalent to 31% of Americans overall – say their most recent experience was on social media.
Due to the pervasiveness of online harassment in social media, the public is highly critical of the way these companies approach the problem. Completely 79% say social media companies do a fair or bad job of addressing harassment or cyberbullying on their platforms.
But even as social media companies get low ratings for dealing with abuse on their sites, a minority of Americans support the idea of holding these platforms legally responsible for the harassment that occurs on their sites. Only 33% of Americans say that people who have been harassed or bullied on social media sites should be able to sue the platforms where this happened.
These are some of the key findings from a nationally representative survey of 10,093 American adults conducted online September 8-13, 2020, using the Pew Research Center’s US Trend Board. Here are among the key findings.
Almost nine out of ten Americans say that being bullied or bullied online is a problem, including 55% who consider it a big problem.
Many Americans also have their own experience with online targeting. While about four in ten Americans (41%) have experienced some form of online harassment, the rising shares have faced more intense and multiple forms of harassment. For example, in 2014, 15% of Americans said they experienced more forms of online harassment. That share is now 25%. There has also been a double digit increase in the number of people experiencing multiple types of online abuse – rising from 16% to 28% since 2014. This number has also increased since 2017, when 19% of Americans experienced multiple forms of harassment behavior. Online.
Many individual types of behavior are on the rise, too. The shares of Americans who say they have received an abusive name, or have been intentionally embarrassed or physically threatened while online, have risen since 2014. However, the percentage of those who experienced any of the least risky behaviors is broadly on par with 2017 (37% in 2020). Versus 36% in 2017).
Online harassment is an especially common feature of online life for younger adults, and they are especially vulnerable to more serious harassment behaviors. Nearly two-thirds of adults under the age of 30 (64%) had experienced any form of online harassment activity measured in this survey – making this the only age group in which the majority experienced these behaviors. However, half of people aged 30-49 were the target of online harassment, while younger shares of those aged 50 and over (26%) encountered at least one such harassing activity.