A new study looking at harassment and social media find, not surprisingly, that women tend to feel more harassed online than men, and, interestingly, that people tend to feel most harassed on Facebook, by a large margin.
The study was contacted by Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and Craig Newmark of craigconnects (he’s the founder of CraigsList).
Among the findings:
- 57% of women report having been harassed online, versus 43% of men.
- 52% of women under the age of 35 reported some form of harassment, versus 40% of men in the same age group.
- Asians report the most harassment, in terms of racial categories, with 34%. Following by Hispanics with 32%, blacks 28%, and whites 23%.
- A significantly larger percentage of Democrats, 29%, reported being harassed online than Republicans, 20%.
One caveat before moving forward. Just because I say that I felt harassed does not mean that I was in fact harassed. (For example, this student, who prefers to go by the pronoun “it” (that’s an entirely separate essay in and of itself), claims that they were “obviously threatened” by a speaker at a recent public discussion. The facts, however, don’t seem to back up the student’s assertion. More from someone who was actually there.) The law has ample examples of cases where both sides felt they were in the right, and neither side agreed on the facts of the case, on what actually transpired. Sometimes, when I say I’m a victim, I sincerely mean it — and I’m wrong.
Now, having that said, I’ve always maintained that the Internet was uniquely situated to bring out the best and the worst in people. And ironically, both sides, the good and the bad, tend to show themselves in our dealings with strangers.
Say you were chatting with someone on a dating (or hook-up) site. Because the Internet affords you some measure of anonymity, you might feel more ease chatting/flirting online with someone you don’t know than you would feel in a real-life situation, at a bar, or a coffee shop. After all, it’s a lot less humiliating (or at least daunting) having someone not respond to your online “hello” than it is approaching a stranger in a bar and saying “hi,” only to find that they’re so not into you.
The irony, however, is that anonymity sometimes turns people into jerks too. I find, far too often, that people who don’t know me will contact me by email, or on Twitter, and be far more hurtful, antagonistic, and just generally assuming the worst of a situation, than they’d ever be in person. In the same way that people fear being turned down by someone they don’t know in a bar, they also fear being shut down by someone they’re being rude to in person. So it’s easier, I believe, for them to be rude im-person, and the Internet affords them that impersonality.
So I’m not surprised that the study finds a harassment problem online. I think it’s real. I was, however, surprised to find Facebook at the top of the list of sites where people feel harassed. I never feel harassed on Facebook. And I don’t see the kind of rudeness there that I even see (sometimes) in the comments section of my own Web site! In fact, I receive (perceive) far more rudeness by email, and let’s not even talk about YouTube. The comments sections at YouTube are simply vile, and seemingly unregulated. I’ve never seen anything like the kind of sexism, racism, homophobia and general nastiness that I regularly see in YouTube’s comment section.
Yet, YouTube comes in third on the list, far behind Facebook:
Also, you’ll note from the image above, that there are other categories of harassment, including homophobic (coming in at 14% — Lord knows I’ve gotten that one).
In the end, it’s an interesting question as to whether people are more harassed online than they are offline, and if so, why. I do suspect that while people can be awfully rude in person (while driving, walking, or at work), the Internet sometimes inspires the worst in us. In part because of the anonymity, as noted above, but also because of group-think. Your “100 best anonymous friends you’ve never met” on Twitter tell you that you’re were just oppressed, so you believe it, and respond accordingly, by collectively pushing back against the perceived perpetrator, whether the slight was real, misconstrued, or simply based on one person’s lie that went viral.
And that’s the irony. Group-think could inflate the numbers for this poll. After all, anyone with a significant online presence is well-familiar with being accused of the latest -ism by a righteous online mob. (The Internet masses taught me, for example, that I hate animals, bisexuals, and soldiers. All of which was news to me.)
The thing is, sometimes numbers don’t prove you’re right. They simply prove that you’re a mob. A mob that, ironically, could end up being one of the biggest harassers of them all.