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Online harassment 2016: Fresh data

I get a lot of press releases in my email in-box. This one about harassment in social media truly surprised me because it was balanced, cited data responsibly, did not appeal to people’s fears and represented clear understanding of today’s media environment.

The survey of Americans 18+ – a project of Craig Newmark, founder of and, and social impact consultants Rad Campaign – indicates that we, all of us social media users, need to work harder. We’ve made hardly any headway in bringing down online harassment, but we have made a teeny bit. The survey found that 22% of Americans have either been “bullied, harassed or threatened online” themselves or know someone who has been, down 3 percentage points since the partners’ last survey in 2014.

From poll by craigconnects, Rad Campaign & Lincoln Park Strategies

From poll by craigconnects, Rad Campaign & Lincoln Park Strategies

The number is higher for younger adults than older ones – and it hasn’t gone down at all. In both surveys, nearly half (47%) of millennials (ages 18-34) reported experiencing or knowing someone who has experienced bullying, harassment and threats online. Interestingly, the figure is much higher than for teens. Now, this survey’s figure is for those who’ve experienced a wide range of social cruelty or know someone who has, so it could be that it maps well to the latest data from the National Academies for teens, and teens are having similar experiences. The National Academies researchers found that 7-15% of youth have experienced cyberbullying, which is a subset of overall harassment online (for more, see this).

Here are other key findings in this new survey:

  • Sexual harassment down – from 44% in 2014 to 27% this year.
  • Political harassment up: Not surprising in a presidential election year, political harassment “almost doubled from 16% in 2014 to 30% this year.”
  • Mostly not strangers: “72% of millennials are harassed online by someone they know.”
  • Mostly not anonymous – 61% know their harassers.
  • Worse for people of color: Hispanics (34%) and Asians experience (34%) more harassment than black (22%) or white (19%) people.
  • Women more than men – 55% to 45%, respectively (with women more than 4x as likely to experience sexist harassment than men) – but the number of women who’ve been harassed is slightly down from 2014 and slightly up for men.
  • Tinder has the most work to do. “Tinder users report the highest levels of online” at 62% of daily users (three-quarters of whom are millennials. But Tinder is not alone, of course.
  • Harassment via email has increased – up 5% from 2014 to 25%.

It’s going to take all stakeholders – companies, users, interest groups – to turn this around. “Social media networks are not being very successful stopping this problem from the top-down, but they can’t do it alone,” Newmark is quoted in the press release as saying. “It’s up to all of us as users to do our part to report bad actors and to encourage civility.”

And we will, led by young people, the power users, I believe. As we adults change our rhetoric and messaging, see them as stakeholders rather than potential victims, allow them agency and teach them the literacies of the digital age (media and social literacy as well as digital), they will take digital citizenship to the next level – for example, with #icanhelp. As digital leaders, they will “be the change” they want to see online. So many of them already are modeling digital leadership for their peers online. We need to acknowledge and support that.

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