USA TODAY International Edition

Harassment on social media runs rampant, poll shows

41% of U. S. adults have been insulted, threatened or stalked

- Rachel Sandler

Harassment and abuse are becoming the new normal online: 41% of American adults have been personally subjected to online harassment — an increase from two years ago — and 66% have witnessed it, a new study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found.

The most common forms of harassment, the study found, are offensive name- calling and purposeful embarrassm­ent. But 18% of those who said they have been harassed were victims of more severe forms of harassment, such as threats of physical harm, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.

According to the study, which surveyed 4,248 people, most of these interactio­ns take place on social media platforms. Some 14% said they were targeted for their political views. Nearly 1 in 10 said they were harassed because of their physical appearance.

Social media giants have been grappling with preventing harassment on their platforms. Over the past year, Twitter has rolled out new tools that make it easier to mute notificati­ons from unknown accounts and trolls. Last year, Instagram announced it would let users filter any inappropri­ate or abusive comments.

Most respondent­s, 79%, said tech companies have a duty to step in and prevent abuse on their platforms.

The study broke the results down by race and gender. More blacks and Hispanics said they were targeted online because of their race and ethnicity. And women were twice as likely as men to say they were harassed because of their gender.

Additional­ly, female respondent­s reported they were subjected to sexual harassment at higher rates than men. The study found that 21% of women ages 18 to 29 said they were sexually harassed online — more than twice the number of men in that same age group.

About half of female respondent­s ages 18 to 29 also told Pew that someone has sent them explicit images they did not ask for.

Men and women also differed in how they view online harassment as a relative problem. About 70% of women said it was a “major” problem while only 54% of men did. More women also said they valued feeling safe and welcome in online spaces more than being able to speak their minds freely.

Overall though, while there is widespread concern over online harassment ( 62% of respondent­s said they viewed it as a major problem), there is disagreeme­nt in how platforms should balance being able to speak freely and preventing abuse. While 53% said it was more important for people to feel safe, 45% said free speech should take precedence.


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