October 22, 2014

Online Harassment

Part 5: Witnessing Harassment Online

Nearly three quarters of internet users—73%—have witnessed online harassment. Offensive name-calling and purposeful embarrassment were the most common types of harassment people witnessed. Respondents were asked if they had witnessed the following types of harassment online:

  • 60% of internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names
  • 53% said they witnessed efforts to purposefully embarrass someone
  • 25% said they witnessed someone being harassed for a sustained period of time
  • 24% said they witnessed someone being physically threatened
  • 19% said they witnessed someone being sexually harassed
  • 18% said they witnessed someone being stalked

Among all internet users, the % who have witnessed vs. experienced the following elements of online harassment

Demographics of Witnessing Online Harassment

Young people are the most likely demographic group to witness online harassment.

Young people, those ages 18-29, are the most likely of any demographic group to witness harassment online, both in general and across each specific element. Fully 92% have witnessed some kind of harassment online.

Young people are most likely to observe name-calling and efforts to embarrass someone, but their experience stands out when considering more severe types of online harassment. Young people observe physical threats, sexual harassment, stalking, and harassment over a sustained period of time at almost double the rate of the general internet-using population. Those 30-49 observe these types of harassment at similar rates to the general internet-using population, while those over 50 observe them at significantly reduced rates. Much like experiencing harassment, young people are particularly exposed to witnessing online harassment.

Among all internet users, the % who witness the following types of harassment, by age

Hispanics and African-Americans are more likely than whites to witness harassment. Fully 88% of Hispanics, 84% of African-Americans, and 69% of whites have witnessed at least one kind of online harassment. Across the six individual elements, Hispanics are more likely than whites to witness each one. Along with Hispanics, African-Americans are also more likely than whites to witness physical threats, purposeful embarrassment, and stalking online.

Those who have witnessed online harassment were also likely to be the target of it. Over half of internet users, 53%, who have witnessed the harassment of others online were the target of online harassment themselves. They were more than ten times as likely as internet users who have not witnessed online harassment to experience it by a margin of 53% to 5%.

Open-end responses: Witnessing harassment

Respondents were asked to give their own description of the most recent incident of online harassment they witnessed. The themes and frustrations described were similar to the stories documented throughout this report of those who experienced harassment.
Many respondents noted anonymity was behind much of the harassment they witnessed and gave people license to behave badly.

“Some people lose all sense of decency when they think actions on the internet are anonymous.”

“Behavior and language that would never be done in person.”

“Commenters on message boards say all kinds of horrible things to people unthinkingly. There is so much security in the idea of anonymity so people are much more forward with the things that they say because there isn’t as much chance of them actually being confronted about what they have said or done.”

“Comments sections of websites can be a racial and/or misogynistic free for all. People hide behind their anonymity to say the most foul, racist and sexist things. They say things that they would never say face to face. In the past I have called some of these people out, and lectured them on their behavior. However, you can’t always rationalize with a sick or stupid mind.”

“People lose their moral compass online. You can be as cruel as you want behind a screen because no one is immediately responding and you don’t have to face what you say/do.”

“A lot of these things happen anonymously. They become less frequent when a person’s identity is known, but is still seen.”

“Mostly anonymous online forum attacks of a silly nature, nothing of great import.”

“Twitter, Facebook, and email, all allow anonymous people to write the most hateful harmful things about and to people. It should not be anonymous anymore. People should be allowed to say what they want, but the recipient should know who the author of the comments is. Too many people get online and feel empowered to reach out and strike at strangers with a vengeance because nobody knows who they are. Five years from now we’ll wonder why we let people get away with this so long. It will be changed.”

“Anonymous people calling other people names and questioning their character.”

“I have seen people being called racist things like the n-word or s**t or gay slurs. I have seen other people being called dumb or stupid. Mostly on tumblr. They use the anonymous setting and just rip people apart.”

“It is far too easy for a person to stalk , harass, and threaten another online and remain completely anonymous.”

“Social networking allowing someone to be anonymous, thus allowing them to say anything about multiple people.”

“Facebook, and Twitter usually…people using anonymity to verbally attack people or embarrass them with their beliefs.”

‘I’ve seen people belittle people they don’t even know. The anonymity of the internet allows people to be ruder than they would be in real life.”

“Much like anyone else. Folks are attacked online for simple comments or their beliefs. The assumed/presumed anonymity of the internet makes for a lot of tough guys and bullies.”

“People regularly insult others on the internet far more freely than in personal situations because of the anonymity involved. People wouldn’t regularly insult others for such minor things, but on the internet there are seldom consequences, and people take advantage of this.”

“People say things they wouldn’t normally say face to face.”

Most people said they witnessed general cruelty or meanness online. Name-calling, insults, and an inability to respect differences in opinion were common complaints. Some expressed a certain amount of apathy that meanness is just the nature of life online.

“Angry people haranguing over a delicate situation and trying to bully their views into fact. Offensive language was the main propellant in the conversation and loud voices.”

“Someone being ridiculed on a forum for their beliefs and opinions. The use of profanity and physical violence, although the offender probably never intended to act on it. Cowards tend to have a lot of courage sitting behind their computers.”

“Attack with regard to another’s point of view and sometimes go the point of name calling…..or worse.”

“Comments in posts are often offensive, vulgar and mean spirited towards the writer or other commenters.”

“Foolish ridicule, not letting people have their own thoughts, not being able to disagree and let be, having to have last word, we need to let other opinions count as much as our own.”

“Friends, or friends of friends, being d**ks stashed away at their home with no one around, completely comfortable saying whatever comes to mind without thinking first.”

“General bullying and comments intended to humiliate or cause stress to someone, usually on Facebook.”

“I come across comments often on Facebook of people that take offense of another person’s opinion. These comments can often lead to more comments from many people and include all types of remarks (funny/dirty/nasty/etc).”

“I have seen someone spreading untruths about another person to others on social sites. Telling lies and trying to get others to believe it and to tell others as well. Very disturbing to see that especially when you know the person they are referring to and you know that it is untrue.”

“In comments on a Facebook post, many times people will harshly and indecently harass other people leaving comments. They call them terrible names, use terrible language, say ugly things about them although they do not know them, and will argue for a long time.”

“In general, whether anonymity is a factor or not, people feel entitled to be brutal in their conduct with people they don’t know.”

“Just reading what the person puts online turns my stomach.”

‘Someone calling someone names.”

“The ‘comments’ require no Mensa Membership so they can and have devolved into name calling.”

“People in online forums can just be mean. I have seen all types of inappropriate comments that people make to harass, demean and belittle others. I don’t understand why people are so disrespectful and uncaring and just plain mean.”

“People just say names, ask for nudes, and tell people they suck at life.”

“People say very mean things on the internet with no fear of repercussions, racial slurs get thrown around, often for nearly no reason at all.”

“People talking s**t about others publicly rather than one-on-one.”

“People think they can get away with anything online so they treat people however they want.”

‘People think they can say or do whatever they want online because they don’t have the personal interaction or accountability to others.”

“It’s all over the internet. How can you not see it?”

“It’s the Internet. It’s pretty much everywhere. There’s a lot of crap online, but you gotta take the bad with the good, and I accept it for what it is.”

‘Haters gonna hate. It’s constant.”

Many people observe harassment online surrounding political or religious differences or public figures.

“Deliberate meanness aimed at political figures.”

“I argue politics and see discussions of the same. They get pretty ignorant. Racism, discrimination, generalization, you name it I’ve seen it. I’m surrounded by unaccountable ignorant a**holes.”

“I have observed condescending and antagonistic remarks about people in an online discussion group about local politics and social issues.”

“I have observed social networking used to vilify different people for their religious and/or political beliefs. This is especially true of current political leaders.”

“In blogs mainly discussing politics where people lash out at each other because they are so unhappy with themselves or wish to feel more superior to others in their point of view.”

“In reading blogs:   1. People call those with different political and/or religious views very insulting names and insult their intelligence. 2. Many cannot and do not stick to the issues because they think the more improperly emotional they get…the better they will make their point. WRONG…THEY just belittle themselves.”

“On Facebook a friend continually derided one political party and their candidates in such a mean spirited way that I dropped the person as a friend.”

“Rude put-downs relating to disagreements on politics or religion.”

“Someone being persecuted for their faith and adherence to its tenets.”

“I got off of Facebook because of religious nuts who force their opinions on everyone.”

“I often see a lot of hatred and name calling at the President.”

“Came across several liberal/progressive trolls that verbally threaten and harass online participants in order to break up the conversation and to be of general annoyance.”

“General name calling during heated political or social discussions. The raunchy and generally lewd commentary comes from supporters of a left leaning slant, usually. When they have lost the debate and are relegated to character assassination as an offensive (no pun intended) weapon.”

“General site trolling where people, usually right-wing extremists, call anyone who disagrees with their little worldview nasty names and occasionally, especially if the target of their trolling is female, it descends into sexual harassment.”

“Liberal left inclined trolls, calling people stupid, threatening death, saying sexually offensive things.”

“Mostly gun rights nuts responding to calls for sensible gun legislation.”

Comment sections on websites were also noted for hosting antagonistic conversations between contributors. These were often news sites.

“Comments pages where people can remain anonymous, particularly on news websites.”

“Comments section of news stories are full of personal insults and name calling.”

“Comments sections of news articles often contain some very racist, homophobic, sexist language.”

“Five minutes in the comments sections of any websites.”

“I see this type of thing all the time in the comment sections on articles. I don’t know if the harassing comments are being read by the people they are directed at but there are always lewd comments being tossed around.”

“In the comment sections of news articles there are frequently those who resort to name calling when someone states an opinion that differs from their own.”

“It frequently happens in the comments section of just about everything–news sites, YouTube videos…anytime there’s a chance to voice opinions, people will take it too far and make personal attacks.”

“Offensive or insensitive or ignorant comments in response to published articles or columns relating to politics, economics, and culture.”

“Comments regarding an article or video that have been demeaning and abusive – either related to the video itself or lashing out at others who are commenting with different opinions.”

“A hate filled response to a written article. There was no dispute of the facts, just verbal abuse/dogma.”

Other spaces online where harassment was frequently witnessed included social media sites, blogs, video sites, and discussion boards.

“Almost all of it has occurred on either YouTube comments or Facebook.”

“Blogs, especially political blogs have profanities and vulgarities unbelievable about 50% of the time.”

“Comments usually posted anonymously by people on large websites like YouTube.”

“Facebook.”

“Harassment in comments in Facebook, Buzzfeed, and YouTube.”

“Have seen this many times on Facebook and definitely on Twitter. With status updates and tweets it is easy to talk about others in a negative way.”

“Inappropriate anonymous comments on sites such as YouTube.”

“I’ve seen a site called 4chan. It’s pretty scary on there.”

“Mainly in comments sections of news articles and Craig’s List.”

“On Youtube and Reddit, rude or harassing behavior are common. This is especially true when it comes to comments and content related to controversial topics like politics, race relations, and religion, but occasionally this nastiness spills over into topics that are supposed to be more light-hearted like sports or pop culture.”

“People treating others with disrespect via social media.”

Embarrassing photos and videos were often used as examples.

“Compromising photos being posted to social media.”

“I cannot describe particulars. Generally posting a picture that shows someone in a compromised position even if it is fairly innocent. Just the intent is there to try and embarrass the person.”

“Offensive pictures (pornographic or violent), name calling.”

“Pictures being posted with teasing/unfriendly comments.”

“Pictures posted of embarrassing behavior.”

“Posting pictures of someone that are embarrassing and tagging that person.”

“Someone posted some explicit pictures and they were reported and the person who was reported got angry and called the other person a bored b***h.”

Many observed very personal attacks—“airing dirty laundry” of family drama.

“A disagreement broke out when someone critically commented on hearsay of another person’s activities.   There was a good bit of name calling after the airing of their own family secrets and dirty laundry by the first victim. The exchange was destructive and sad.”

“A single mom making accusations that her son’s father was not a good dad.”

“A woman being shamed by her husband’s family for allegedly having an affair.”

“An in-law posting about an incident in which she blamed her husband, an aunt posting about someone who wronged her family in some way.”

“Facebook posting about a marital affair.”

“I have seen family members embarrass and make fun of each other on social media to the point of siblings getting written out of my parent’s will.”

“I have witnessed Facebook be used for family arguments and cause break ups between relationships. I have also witnessed racism and hatred.”

“I witnessed a mother being stalked by her baby daddy and calling her names.”

“It was families attacking one another while a divorce was going on… Also men and women creeping on their crushes.”

“Just started on Facebook and of the 5 friends I have 2 in particular think it is okay to embarrass their family members and be outright rude. I do not want to know that stuff and I really don’t think others do either. Of course then, I am a lot older than 18 and 40.”

“People sharing embarrassing moments about themselves, their spouse, or their children.”

“Personal attacks that should not be made public about family members.”

“Witnessed a group being embarrassed by a family member of a recently deceased person for some in the group not ‘mourning enough.’”

Others said the harassment they witnessed involved colleagues or other work-related situations.

“Broadcast emails about a person’s mistakes/errors in the office setting.”

“Comments directed toward a coworker not by name but in general.”

“I have seen a team member at work use his cell phone to post disparaging remarks about another team member and then comment openly about them.”

Others witnessed sexual harassment and derogatory comments toward women.

“A friend making inappropriate sexual comments toward women.”

“Anytime a person gets into an argument online these days you see threats, cursing, offensive language and other disturbing characteristics. Young women especially when posting pictures of themselves deal with sexist remarks about their bodies, the sad part is that some of them, though uncomfortable with how to respond, don’t even really understand how disrespectful it is.”

“Everyday sexism and harassment of women.”

“Facebook friends bashing each other’s name, creepy old guys frequently commenting on girls pictures etc.”

“Facebook, gives people the freedom to say and post almost anything they want too. On any given day you can see people getting called dirty names, or see girls intimate pictures posted on a guys’ page because they broke up and he thinks that showing those pictures will make him feel better (or vice versa).”

“General name calling and bullying in gaming forums. Or when people think someone is female they will make sexual comments and continue on. Lots of comments are seen when girls post pictures on Facebook.”

“Guys and studs exposing naked pictures of females who sent them naked pictures.”

“I have been on a dating website where women of color are put down and talked about as if they were subhuman.”

“Keyboard bullies, calling women the ‘c’ name etc…..”

“Lots of misogyny, racism, sexism, gender policing, body shaming and anti-intellectualism.”

“Many things. It is the internet. I see people getting called all kinds of names and being put down for having any kind of opinion. It is also common for men to sexually harass women. For some reason they act like it’s ok. I blame the porn and beauty industry for that one…”

“Misogynistic language and rape threats in comments sections of news articles on feminist topics.”

“Questionable comments and remarks of a sexual nature to girls’ selfies or profile photos on social networks.”

“Real life video posted of hooligans molesting women on the streets by lifting their skirts and exposing their bums.”

“Seen people purposely mock others’ comments. Seen men go after women who make comments that are feminist. I have felt fearful myself of commenting on certain posts because of the response I would get.”

“Strong younger women seem to get targeted. It looks pretty awful. Rape threats, death threats.”

Physical threats and stalking were observed by some.

“I have seen people in a group I was in get a death threat before. There is always that one crazy ‘hiding’ behind their computer!”

“People don’t like what someone posted and people threatened them with bodily injury.”

“People threatening to do physical harm because they don’t like what is being said, name calling.”

“Someone was physically threatened for posting a comment online.”

“A lot of taunting. No matter what he would make up a different name and go at her again. Constantly threatening her telling her where she was at all times and what she was doing and telling her what she was wearing. The police did nothing. There is no justice. That is a fairy tale.”

“Following people around social media sites and comment sections, leaving threatening and insulting comments for the purpose of harassment.”

“I saw a man like and comment on nearly all of my friend’s old posts and pictures. He then began messaging her and showing up at places she had ‘checked-in’. I have also seen women arguing on social media websites and have seen individuals say bad things about someone who has passed away.”

“Mostly persons attempting to track someone down in ways that person did not give permission to do, such as personal email and the like.”

“Sustained bullying and harassment of online targets, including threats or detailed descriptions of violence they hope the target sustains, usually as a consequence of disagreement. Not just idle threats, but things like doxxing (outing someone’s identity to the Internet mob), trying to get people fired/expelled, attacking someone through technological means, etc. I’ve seen it happen to people I know, but consider it so ubiquitous so even when I don’t know someone under attack I assume such attacks are happening.”

Online games and sports discussions were also noted as environments where name-calling and cruelty occurred. Sometimes it was considered just the nature of the game.

“Chiding someone for their likes and dislikes in things such as sports, cars, athletes, colleges football teams things of that nature.”

“I have seen all that was mentioned [in the question prompt] plus more on any game site. Apparently, no one monitors the site. There is a place to complain but there are no changes. Thank-goodness there is a way to ‘ignore’ that person…and I have ‘ignored’ hundreds!”

“In games such as World of Warcraft some people rage and take it far too serious and do everything they can to humiliate someone.”

“Just the normal trash talk that goes down on Call of Duty.”

“Lots of comments on videogame streams are extremely graphic and violent in nature, though I sincerely doubt any of it is ever intended to actually be carried out and it’s more a community norm to talk dirty and angry.”

“Message boards for sports teams can get threatening before moderators take them down, and even sexually threatening. I suspect it’s because the poster is drunk.”

“Mostly just verbal harassment on Xbox Live.”

“People talking a bunch of s**t to each other on online games like Call of Duty.”

“Playing competitive games on the internet with other people and they are just sore losers and cannot accept losing gracefully. They lose their temper and start calling other players names.”

“Right off the bat let me say I have never felt like any event like this ever had intent behind it. But this happens all the time in online multiplayer games I play. Offensive and harsh verbal treatment is commonplace there. There are so many examples but most are like this ‘F you’ or ‘STFU’ or ‘uninstall, you’re garbage.’”

“Sports blogs are notorious for online feuds between posters. There can be very nasty back and forth due to the ‘distance’ between posters. Would never happen face to face.”

Some felt the name-calling and comments they witnessed online were meant as a joke.

“Just friends playing jokes.”

“Just funny comments that may be a little hurtful anyway.”

“More of a joke than anything else, when someone gets a hold of a phone of another person with their Facebook and they post random funny things and sabotage their profile.”

“Mostly in a joking, playful manner.”

“Normally in jest, friends call each other obscenities.”

“Generally young people on Facebook trying to have fun.”

Many were concerned for the teenagers they saw targeted online. This was especially true of parents and teachers.

“I have teenagers and I have seen it all. Their friends committing suicide and etc due to the internet. My own children have experienced harassment and many times stayed up all night crying.”

“Teenagers at my daughter’s school wrote something online about a classmate.”

“Just name calling and insults from teenagers.”

“Mostly teenagers ranting.”

“Teenagers and older young adults being bullies.”

“I’ve seen teens harass the heck of out of each other online. Parents had to intervene.”

“Teenage kids from my child’s school.”

“I have two nieces. One is in her mid-20’s and the other is in her late teens. They are very different in build, attitudes, musical tastes and just about everything else. The differences also include the ways they have each been harassed online while in Jr. High and in High School. Between them I have seen every type of harassment and stalking I checked off on the previous list [in the question prompt]. The stories are numerous and often gruesome. I will not go in to detail in order to protect them.”

“As a former teacher I have witnessed both teachers and students being harassed.”

“As a teacher, I have been privy to this sort of harassment taking place in my students’ lives.”

“Student to student harassment on Facebook and a grandparent threatening a teacher on Facebook.”

“As a teacher, I have had bullies in my classroom who continuously enjoy bullying certain children.”

“During the weekends when students are out of school, a lot of name calling takes place online. Young people will come back to organized settings such as dance class, after-school activities, etc. mad at each other. The problem is often name calling online through Facebook, Twitter, etc.”

“Mostly things reported by students and brought in to school by parents complaining about bullying.”

“A student being teased and insulted on an ongoing basis by classmates.”

“A young high school student being called names and being bullied in social media.”