How Do We Stop Online Harassment?

Folks, recently I launched a new infographic revealing the rise in online harassment with Rad Campaign and Lincoln Park Strategies.

Here’s some important findings from the poll:

  • Women report being personally harassed much more frequently than men – the gender gap’s 57% women to 43% men across all age groups.
  • Sexual harassment’s the most common form of harassment – 44% of all incidences), followed by: Slurs on a person’s professional ability (28%), Racial (23%), Religious (18%), and Political (16%) insults.
  • Surprisingly, the level of sexual harassment’s virtually identical between men (44%) and women (43%). 62% of respondents who said they’d been harassed online said it happened on Facebook. And, Twitter came in second at 24%.
  • The poll found significant effects of the harassment, including people who said they were scared for their life (29% of those harassed) and were afraid to leave their house (20%).
  • More than 2/3 of those harassed online said they knew their harasser in real life. And in those under 35 , that number rose to 72%.

Allyson Kapin, Founder of Rad Campaign and Women Who Tech, really dove into more of the numbers in her article, New Poll Details Widespread Harassment Online, Especially on Facebook, and also did a good job talking about some solutions to online harassment.

What I want to know, is what else can folks be doing to prevent online harassment? And what is it that people want to be done? This is a really big deal, and the first step toward dealing with unacceptable behavior, understand the problem, then we can get rid of it.

The deal is, people want social networks to intervene when there’s harassment.

According to the poll,

  • 75% think suspending user accounts who have harassed others online would be somewhat or very successful at combating online harassment.
  • 64% think that creating a code of conduct for users would be somewhat or very successful at combating online harassment.
  • 25% of those harassed reported it to the social network where it occurred,
  • and 61% of the folks who reported online harassment said that the social network shut down the harasser’s account in response to the report.

2014-06-10-2.PNGThis is a time when I think crowdsourcing solutions is the best way to do this. People have different experiences, and it’s important to take those into consideration. Online harassment affects people differently, but the survey results show that it affects all types of folks. One thing that the majority agreed on was that the current laws about online and in-person harassment either aren’t strong enough or are nonexistent.

What solutions do you propose to get rid of the problem? And how can social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, email service providers, etc. do a better job at addressing online harassment?

6 thoughts on “How Do We Stop Online Harassment?

  1. * Block functions that actually work and completely block all interaction with a user.
    * Mute function that doesn’t get tangled in block.
    * Actual response to abuse reports, generating at minimum an inter-user block, but that when actually involve any kind of escalation by the abuser, a block of that user from the service (or other highly quarantining action).
    * Encourage use of pseudonyms rather than complete anonymity, if only to encourage a stable handle to block by.
    * Spam-fighting-like statistical models to detect outlier behavior — repeated first contacts by someone who’s been reported as harassing is one particularly significant sign. Being proactive and confirming with the harassed user might even make sense. “Is @username bothering you?”
    * Allow communities to segment when possible, rather than encouraging all users to share one single graph.
    * At least tri-level privacy controls per account: Public, initial contacts restricted to friends, and all contact restricted to friends.
    * Transparent policies, so we can know how effective the service will be in supporting us if harassed, rather than shouting into the void, wondering if anyone actually reads these reports.
    * DO use decoy selections in report abuse forms, but keep it simple: “This is annoying” vs “this is dangerous” can be differentiated.


  2. Focus on the behavior, not the identify labels.
    Otherwise, people just get into divisive antagonistic victim olympics.

    Harassment is a problem, for all of us – not just ___ harassment or harassment of ____. Harassment hurts individuals, and, for the targeted individual, the statistics don’t matter – they are not a statistic, they are a human being.
    NO form of harassment is OK.

    Hatred crosses all boundaries, but so does love. When we stop seeing ourselves as segmented demographics, and start seeing ourselves as equally human, love will win.


  3. Treat it like spam, since the sender can create a limitless number of accounts blocking by account is going to be ineffective. However given a large enough corpus of harassing emails and posts it should be possible to create a filter similar to spam filters that give each message a “stalker score”.


  4. Harassment means what exactly? Sending you an unwanted email? So some idiot sends you an email or response you don’t like.. so what? As with any other unwanted spam you can simply delete it or don’t bother reading it. No big deal. It’s just an email for God’s sake.. maybe from some disturbed wierdo in another country/city.. who knows & who cares.. a loudmouthed idiot can’t really do much to harm an unknown person in an unknown location now can they?. It follows that as long as you’re SMART enough not to give out your personal details to strangers and weirdos online there should really be no problem. As for those who are continually gossiping or spreading nasty rumors about others on Facebook ( or any other social media) you should also probably know better than to publicly antagonize people who you do know (and who also know your personal details) who could conceivably sue you for defamation, or perhaps even make good on their online threats. It’s just called common sense.


  5. A lot of times people use dummy accounts for harassment and make it look like there are a lof of people in agreement. I know having multiple accounts is against both Twitter’s and Facebook’s TOS, but in the cases where I know this has been reported they haven’t responded. If Twitter and Facebook were more rigorous about enforcing their TOS it would probably cut down on anyone’s ability to do this.


  6. My issue with social media (specificly twitter) is they don’t allow “bystanders” to report the abuse. Well, you can report it but they won’t do anything with your report. This is exactly the opposite of what teachers are taught to do when harassment happens at schools. First, I think social media needs to listen to all reports of abuse, not just the victims. Then they need to review all the behavior of the abuser, not just a single twitter. I recently filled out a report on twitter where I cited a dozen tweets in the last month and it took over an hour to find and link then on the report. There should be a simpler way to do this. Maybe the report button could generate an automatic report to twitter. Last, I think some of the anonymity should be taken away. Registration should require more than an email address; a valid drivers license #, credit card (as id only), social sec #, etc. It would give twitter & law enforcement a way to identify the person.


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