41 Percent of Americans Have Been Harassed Online, Study Shows

A new Pew study highlights what we’ve known for years — the internet can be brutal

It looks like Melania Trump’s anti-cyber bullying campaign has an uphill battle to face.

The results from a new Pew Research Center study on online harassment shouldn’t surprise anyone who has spent more than five minutes on Twitter. More than 40 percent of Americans have been harassed online, and two-thirds have witnessed the behavior.

Pew surveyed roughly 4,200 citizens and found that much of the digital grief is shrugged off, but 18 percent have dealt with “severe forms of harassment,” including: physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.

Harassment looks to be more acute as we increasingly move our lives online, too, with most respondents 18 to 29 years old saying they’ve dealt with some form of online abuse.

There were some interesting and seemingly at-odds findings from the poll. For instance, nearly 80 percent of respondents said social media companies should do something to combat harassment when it happens on their platform. On the other hand, 56 percent said they felt many people overreact to name-calling online and are taking it too seriously.

Some platforms are moving to curb this problem. Instagram recently started using artificial intelligence to weed out “toxic” comments, and Twitter now lets you mute obnoxious strangers or new accounts.

One issue the study reinforces is the negative role anonymity plays in our digital communications. Users are emboldened to be more flagrant when they know their identities are under wraps — they’re able to push the limit and say things that’d otherwise be too shameful to say face to face. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they’d dealt with trolling from strangers or people of whom they didn’t know their true identity.

To check out the full report — including splits by gender — click here.