Online harassment is pervasive, a new Pew Research study shows. Forty percent of American adults say they have personally experienced such harassment, while 73 percent have seen it happen to others. And those figures become more extreme if you look at younger, more tech savvy users: 65 percent of Internet users ages 18-29 have been the target of online harassment and 92 percent have witnessed it.
According to Pew, 44 percent of men and 37 percent of women experience at least one form of online harassment, ranging from name calling to being stalked. But while men were slightly more likely to experience some form of harassment, women -- especially younger women -- face the most "severe" types of attacks.
Men were more likely to experience name calling or attempts to embarrass them, but women are significantly more likely to stalked or sexually harassed -- especially those between the ages of 18 and 24, who were twice as likely to be sexually harassed online and more than three times as likely to be stalked than their male counterparts.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, women were more likely to find their most recent experience with online harassment "extremely" or "very" upsetting -- with 38 percent of harassed women finding those experiences particularly traumatic compared to 17 percent of harassed men. "Those who experience less severe forms of harassment report fewer emotional or personal impacts, while those with more severe harassment experiences often report more serious emotional tolls," to put it in Pew's terms.
Social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook are by far the most common place to experience harassment, according to Pew. Two-thirds of those who experienced online harassment said the most recent incident occurred on a social networking sites or apps, while 22 percent mentioned the comments section of a Web site, and 16 percent cited online gaming.
More men said their most recent experiences of harassment were while gaming online, but that community was also cited as the least hospitable place for women online -- a fact that is likely unsurprising to followers of "GamerGate," a protest movement of sorts that evolved out of a misogynist-tinged campaign of harassment towards a female independent game developer based on allegations about her personal life.
Forty-four percent of respondents to the Pew survey said online gaming is "more welcoming toward men" versus just 3 percent who say it was more welcoming to women -- in stark contrast other online spaces Pew asked about, which were largely found equally welcoming to both genders.
A majority of respondents, 60 percent, ignored the most recent incident of harassment while 40 percent took steps to respond to it. But ignoring the issue actually seems to be at slightly more effective: 83 percent of of those who ignored harassment believed their decision helped make the situation better. But those responding to the more severe forms of harassment were more likely to take steps to respond, according to Pew.
"Those who have ever experienced stalking, physical threats, or sustained or sexual harassment were more likely to take multiple steps in response to their latest incident than those who have only experienced name-calling and embarrassment, 67% vs. 30%," the report said.
Nearly all respondents, 92 percent, agreed that the Internet allows people to be more critical of each other than they might be in the offline world. But there might be at least one silver lining: Nearly 70 percent said online environments also allow them to be more supportive of one another.