We Can Deal With Online Harassment:, but Should Social Media Companies Also Take Responsibility?
Tue, April 20, 2021

We Can Deal With Online Harassment:, but Should Social Media Companies Also Take Responsibility?


Online harassment is terrifying and common, but shutting down your computer or walking away is not necessarily a panacea to harassment, explained Anna Goldfarb of Vice, a print magazine and an online news platform. Online harassment can have real-world impacts as victims can succumb to mental or emotional stress. The harasser’s objective is to send the victim away from the internet by publishing their personal information, sending threats, or threatening them with harm.  

Statistics On Online Harassment (2017)

Maeve Duggan of think tank Pew Research Center said 27% of 4,248 US adults have experienced offensive name-calling online, 22% experienced purposeful embarrassment, and 10% received physical threats (less severe behaviors). 7% of adults experienced sustained harassment and stalking while 6% reported sexual harassment (more severe behaviors). 41% of adults experienced any harassment. 22% said they experienced only less severe behaviors while 18% reported any of the more severe behaviors.

14% of Americans said they have been harassed online because of their politics, 9% were targeted for their physical appearance, and 8% for their race or ethnicity or gender. A smaller number of respondents reported getting harassed for their religion (5%) or sexual orientation (3%). Online harassment does not have to be directly experienced in order for it to impact the victim.

For instance, 27% said they have decided not to post something online after seeing others get harassed and 13% said they stopped using an online service after witnessing other users engage in harassing behaviors. They also set up or adjusted privacy settings (28%), changed any information in online profiles (16%), or done any of these measures (47%). However, only 30% of Americans reported intervening in some way after witnessing abusive behavior directed toward others online.

62% said they view online harassment as a major problem (versus 33% who said it’s a minor problem and 5% who said it’s not a problem) and 79% said online services have a duty to intervene when harassment occurs on their platforms (versus 18% of those who said that online services are not responsible).

Regarding the most effective way to combat online harassment, 35% cited better policies and tools from online companies, 31% mentioned stronger online harassment laws, 15% said peer pressure from other users, and 8% stated increased focus and attention from law enforcement. However, Americans were divided on the issues of free speech and political correctness that underscore the online harassment debate.

45% of respondents said it is more important to let individuals speak their minds freely online while 53% felt that it is more important for people to feel welcome and safe online. The respondents were also conflicted regarding how seriously offensive content online should be treated. 43% said that offensive speech online is too often excused as not being a big deal while 56% take offensive content online too seriously. This latter view was more common among men (64%) than women (49%).



Dealing With Online Harassment

1.     Document Everything

Mary Kay Hoal of ABC News, an American news source, recommended copying the URL and taking a screenshot of the specific webpage where the harassment took place. You can print out the screenshots as you will need them for law enforcement or for a civil lawsuit, advised Dr. Charlotte Laws, a victims advocate and anti-revenge porn activist.

2.     Ignore the Harasser

You might be tempted to reply to the abuser, but Carla Franklin, a cyber abuse expert, survivor, and advocate for victims, advised not to engage with them. Avoid giving them the satisfaction of bullying you. Responding or engaging may escalate the situation and may make it more complicated when you finally seek legal assistance.

3.     Reach Out

Kathryn Stamoulis, Ph.D., an educational psychologist and adjunct professor at Hunter College, noted that some well-meaning individuals may tell you to “log off.” However, logging off is only a band aid solution. You need not disconnect from the internet as you also have the right to promote yourself, share your thoughts, get information, and socialize online.

Stamoulis suggested surrounding yourself with people who validate you. If the harassment induces feelings of distress or causes eating or sleeping difficulties, it is highly recommended to consult a mental health professional for support. Consider telling about it to your friends and family before they heard it from someone else. Preferably, talk to them in person.

4.     File a Report

Go to your local police station to file a report. Some police departments have an “Internet crimes division.” Sadly, not every police station have said division. In most cases, the police will only be involved if your life has been threatened.  



Who Is Responsible for Addressing Online Harassment?   

The ubiquity of online abuse pressures social media companies to take responsibility for the content that appears on their services, said Stine Eckert of The Conversation, a news and analysis website. Hence, Twitter, Facebook, and other sites have created buttons to allows users to report harassment and block unwanted users. They also occasionally ban offenders.

We have to remember that online harassment will worsen if no action is taken. Social media corporations are key to creating solutions to curb online abuse. There are rules about online abuse in state or national laws. For example, California’s “revenge porn” law helped prosecute a woman who secretly took a nude photo of another person and posted it online.

These laws are helpful, but they have to transcend state and national orders considering the international and vast nature of cyberspace. Software companies can also help, but they are not required to safeguard their users. However, user protection is critical in industries that provide basic elements of interaction such as banking. Maybe the most important element in combatting online abuse is behaving like it is happening in real life. Eckert asserted that online spaces are created, shaped, and used by real people with real bodies and feelings.

Online harassment is as real as harmful as its real world counterpart. Targets of online harassment experience emotional, psychological, professional, and economic stress. Governments and society must stand up to online harassment and determine how to safeguard the wellbeing of communities, be it online or offline, from abuse.

Online harassment jeopardizes a target’s mental health or impairs daily functioning. While it’s crucial to block the harasser, social media companies and laws should do more to safeguard the safety and wellbeing of users.