Nearly half of Americans under the age of 35 have been affected by online harassment, threats, or bullying, according to a new survey conducted by several online advocacy groups. Most of that harassment is concentrated on Facebook, which is home to 62 percent of the online abuse in the country.
The survey — conducted by Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and the founder of the Craigslist classified ads site — found that younger Americans are more than twice as likely to experience online harassment compared to people above the age of 35. And women are more likely to be the subject of these type of threats; about 57 percent of all individuals who experience online abuse are women. Sexual harassment is the most common type of abuse on the internet.
The people who have experienced online abuse say it can have serious consequences for their well being. Nearly 40 percent said it hurt their self esteem. About 30 percent said they feared for their lives, and 20 percent reported they were afraid to leave their home.
“Some people may think the Internet is a place where they can threaten people without consequences, but online harassment has horrifying real-life effects,” said Allyson Kapin, a co-founding partner of Rad Campaign, said in a press release. “These poll results show the need for effective responses to the problem at all levels.”
Indeed, cyberbullying can have a devastating impact on vulnerable teenagers who may end up taking their own lives. Kids who are harassed online are three times more likely to contemplate suicide. LGBT youth are particularly at risk for being targeted with this type of harassment.
Spurred by several recent tragedies related to online harassment, lawmakers have attempted to find legislative solutions to keep pace with the changing nature of bullying. Now, about 20 states specifically include “cyberbullying” in their anti-bullying laws, although some of this state legislation runs into challenges balancing concerns about protecting free speech.
And in practice, victims still may not feel like they benefit from these criminal protections. Last year, freelance journalist Amanda Hess detailed how difficult it can be for women to get law enforcement to take online threats seriously. Feminist activists have also pressured the social media giant Twitter to get better at cracking down on gender-based harassment, like rape threats. According to the new survey, about 62 percent of Americans don’t believe the country has strong enough laws to effectively tackle online abuse.