Harassment and abuse are on the rise: 41% of American adults have been personally subjected to online harassment — an increase from two years ago — and 66% have witnessed it, says a new Pew Research Center study.
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, most of the interactions take place on social media platforms, with 14% saying they were targeted for their political views, and y one-in-ten saying they were harassed because of their physical appearance.
And 79% of respondents say tech companies have a duty to step in and prevent abuse on their platforms.
More blacks and Hispanics said they were targeted online because of their race and ethnicity. Women were twice as likely as men to say they were harassed because of their gender.
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 18-29 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.