Online harassment

A hate crime is a hate crime whether it is online or face to face.

In the UK the Director of Public Prosecutions at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced a crackdown on online abuse, stating “We commit to treating online hate crimes just as seriously as those experienced face to face”. Laws and policies are likely to be updated and people are urged to report their experiences.

Research undertaken in the USA by the Pew Research Center supports the CPS’s views that encounters with online harassment have "profound real-world consequences".

Key findings of the research

  • 41% of Americans have personally experienced online harassment
    • 27% have experienced offensive name-calling
    • 22% have experienced intentional efforts to embarrass them
    • 10% have experienced physical threats
    • 7% have been stalked online
    • 66% have witnessed harassment directed at others
    • Harassment is especially prevalent in the lives of younger adults (18-29-year-olds). 67% of them have experienced online harassment.
    • Political views, race, gender, appearance and sexual orientation are ‘easy fodder’ for harassment
    • 89% of Americans say the ability to post anonymously online enables people to be cruel to or harass one another.

Real-world impact on online harassment

  • 13% of US adults say they have experienced mental or emotional stress as a result of online harassment
  • 8% indicate that these experiences have caused problems with their friends or family
  • 7% say their reputation has been damaged
  • Other effects reported include ruined relationships; problems at school or work; financial losses; trouble finding work

How to tackle online abuse?

  • 79% feel that online services have a responsibility to step in when harassing behaviour occurs on their platforms
  • 15% say that services should not be held responsible for the behaviour and content of its users
  • 64% say online platforms should play a major role in addressing online harassment
  • 35% believe that better policies and tools from these companies are the most effective way to address online harassment.

Americans are divided on how to tackle online abuse.

  • 45% say it is more important to let people speak their minds freely online VS. 53% say it is more important to make people feel safe online
  • 56% feel many people take offensive content too seriously VS. 43% say offensive content is not treated seriously enough

Sources: CPS; Pew Research Center