With the country highly polarized along partisan lines and the nation’s capital bracing for more unrest leading up to next week’s inauguration, a new Pew Research Center report casts light on the dark side of the web.
A survey of over 10,000 people concluded that the percentage of women who say they’ve experienced online sexual harassment has doubled since 2017.
The percentage of women who say they’ve experienced online sexual harassment has doubled since 2017. Women are three times as likely as men to report experiencing online sexual harassment (16% compared to 5%), and women younger than 35 are also three times as likely as their male counterparts to report experiencing sexual harassment (33% versus 11%).
Meanwhile, men are overall more likely than women to say they’ve experienced forms of online harassment, and more likely to report being called an offensive name and being physically threatened, the study found.
What’s more, about half the people who have experienced online abuse are most likely to cite politics as the reason they believe they were targeted. In fact, 20% of all respondents reported having been harassed over political views — up from 14% three years earlier.
“Partisan antipathy has been growing for years,” Emily Vogels, a Pew Research Center research associate who led the new report, said in a Q&A. “Americans increasingly say they find they have less in common politically with people with whom they disagree, and they see political discussions online as less respectful, less civil and angrier than political discussions in other places.”
Among those who had experienced online harassment, respondents who were male and white were especially likely to cite political views as the reason for their being targeted.
“While there are some partisan differences in citing political views as the perceived catalyst for facing harassment, these differences do not hold when accounting for race and ethnicity,” the report added. For instance, it said, white Democrats and Republicans who report experiencing harassment “are about equally likely to say their political views were the reason they were harassed.”
Politics were not the sole perceived motivator. Other reasons cited by targets of online harassment included their gender (33%), race or ethnicity (29%), religion (19%) and sexual orientation (16%), all of which marked increases from a 2017 Pew survey.
Gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents were “particularly likely to face harassment online,” the survey found.
41% of Americans say they’ve experienced some form of online harassment.
The report analyzed results from a nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 U.S. adults from Sept. 8 to Sept. 13.
The researchers considered respondents who said they had experienced offensive name-calling, sexual harassment, purposeful embarrassment, stalking, physical threats and/or harassment over a sustained period of time online to be online-harassment targets.
Women who were harassed online were far more likely than men to say they’d been harassed due to their gender, and harassment targets who were Black or Hispanic were much more likely than white targets to say they’d been harassed for their race or ethnicity.
Along age lines, a majority of younger adults aged 18 to 29 (64%) and nearly half of adults aged 30 to 49 say they’ve been harassed online, compared to 30% of those aged 50 to 64 and 21% of people 65 and up.
All told, 41% of Americans say they’ve experienced some kind of online harassment, the same as in 2017, with three out of four targets saying their most recent incident happened on social media.
Increasing shares of adults say they have experienced “more severe” types of online harassment such as stalking, sexual harassment and physical threats (25% now, compared to 15% in 2014), as well as multiple harassing behaviors (28% now versus 16% in 2014).
Just 18% of respondents thought social media companies were doing a good or excellent job of addressing cyberbullying and online harassment.
Many have different opinions on how the problem should be addressed: For example, about half of respondents said permanent suspensions for offenders would be very effective in tamping down on harassment, and 48% said the same of making users disclose their real identities.
Only one in three people, meanwhile, believe that victims of cyberbullying or online harassment should be allowed to sue the platforms where the offense took place.