According to a recent report made available Online by Data & Society Research Institute, harassment and abuse continue to challenge the way Americans engage with their communities online. The internet and digital tools are now becoming more central to the way we access and share information, and the way we connect with others, which in turn, affects the way Americans live their lives. The findings show that these unwanted behaviors affect both men and women rather equally, and the research institute suggests incorporating offline experiences to the discourse in future studies.

Most internet users have witnessed online harassment

One of the key findings presented in the social media report shows that most online Americans, 72% of US Internet Users aged 15 and older, have had to witness someone harassing someone else online. Women are more likely to use social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram, and parents with minor children living at home are more active social media users than people who are not active parents.

Amanda Lenhart, a Researcher at Data & Society Research Institute, and an author of the report said, “Not only do victims of online harassment often experience personal and professional harms, but internet users who witness online harassment are more likely to self-censor in online spaces to protect themselves.” The findings she and her team uncovered were based on a nationally representative survey of 3,002 Americans 15 years and older, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from May 17 to July 31 last year.

Three types of digital abuse

After examining traditional and non-traditional forms of abuse – such as hacking and monitoring – the report identifies three main categories of digital abuse and harassment internet users face online:

  • Direct harassment – For example, being called offensive names, being threatened physically, or being stalked. This occurred with 36% of those surveyed.
  • Invasion of privacy – Having sensitive information or images stolen and/or posted online, or having their activities tracked fall into this category. At least 30% of internet users surveyed have had this happen to them.
  • Denial of access – This includes receiving large numbers of unwanted messages, having someone misuse a platform’s reporting tools to block them from using it, and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. The report shows 17% of internet users have had this experience.

Americans go to online discussion sites and online communities regularly, for leisure, study, and business.

These sites are one of the places we go to for expert help and to report issues we face daily with our activities. Unfortunately, many have fallen victim due to their use of these community sites, where they experience digital abuse and online harassment. According to the study, people have had to distance themselves from their harassers, which ultimately meant distancing themselves from the networks and communities they were once a part of.