Study: The Internet Is Still Full Of Arseholes

A nationally-representative US study on online harassment released by Pew Research today confirms what most of us already know: The internet is absolutely chock full of abusive dickheads.

Image: AP/Gizmodo

The study leads with an alarming figure: Forty per cent of internet users have been the target of abusive behaviour online. That number climbs to 67 per cent for young people between the ages of 18 and 29, who are more likely to spend considerable time each day on the internet. And while Pew's findings reveal that men are targeted somewhat more often, women — especially young women — make up an outsized proportion of users who experience the most severe forms of harassment, such as stalking and threats.

Are these surprising findings? No. Most people who are frequently online know these things intuitively. It's why countless articles have been written and countless grassroots campaigns have been started calling for better user protections, sometimes resulting in a new feature or Terms of Use amendment on one platform or another. It would follow that better user tracking, new anti-abuse features, and algorithmic tweaks to weed out low-value interactions would all be working to make the internet safer and friendlier.

However, Pew performed a very similar survey back in 2014 which found that 40 per cent of people online had been harassment targets. And that 65 per cent of young people aged 18 to 29 had been targets. The incidence of harassment by gender is static at 44 per cent vs. 37 per cent. Women remain far more likely to experience severe harassment. Down the line, the numbers in each study are nearly identical, or at least within their respective margins of error (2.4 and 2.9 per cent).

Either the anti-abuse features being created by platforms aren't working at all, or they're not effectively keeping pace with new ways harassment is being coordinated and carried out.

If Pew conducts this survey again in 2020, perhaps nothing will have changed then either. The internet is people, and maybe there's a consistent number of people who simply want to be jerks, and will always find a way to be jerks. Or maybe in three years we'll look back and wonder why the hell anyone would ever want to post something publicly online in the first place.


Comments

    It's not just the internet, there's a certain percentage of people who are just complete arseholes, even in their daily life. We've all come across them, the abusive road ragers, queue jumpers, thieves, animal abusers, there's plenty of human garbage to go around, there's no reason why they would be any better when they are online and (to their limited minds at least) anonymous.

      True. But the (supposed) anonymous nature of the internet brings out a *whole* lot more. A huge number of the arseholes, and outright anger monster, you meet online are probably relatively normal in real life. One trend I've noticed is that the bad behaviour seen online is bleeding into the real world, and the number of people who believe it's OK - even a virtue - to be an arsehole is increasing.

        Ok, glad someone else has noticed that too, thought it was just me.

        Ive had this debate with people before, and I think you're correct, people, to me at least, seem to be horrible online, because of the warm blanket of "anonymity". Reality generally brings about repercussion, where as in the virtual world, repercussion is less likely. Of course, there are exceptions to this. I honestly feel in any online debate for example, once you degrade to arsehole status, you've lost.

    stop press everyone: People act rude on the interwebs.
    there's even a study to prove it.

    Forty per cent of internet users have been the target of abusive behaviour online.I've had comments downvoted a couple of times. Does that count as online abuse?

    urgh. i really do hate the vitriol and bollocks that flow so freely among social media sites and message boards and such.
    the problem is, no one is held accountable or responsible for their actions/words. in real life, if you used to bully someone on the street, someone would come and knock the shit out of you and you would realise "hey, i was probably being a dick" and if they didnt learn it the firs time, they probably would after the 2nd or 3rd or whatever time.
    now with the capability of being able to spew depravity and spew and verbal shit without so much as a warning, people now try to outdo each other with deplorable behaviour/comments/ jokes/shared content and that's whats perpetuating the idea that its common practice and its ok.
    the only way i see an end to it all is making people sign up with a birth certificate and personal details to even have access websites and chat rooms and such, something that makes them say "if im a dick, will this get back to me somehow?"
    the era of arrogance and disregard for the fellow human is a scary place to live these days.
    sometimes i wonder if we'll ever get to an age like in Escape from L.A. and then someone lets off a worldwide EMP that destroys every trace of electronic society and hey presto, we have to go back to communicating face to face and learning to be respectable and honorable human beings that look out and care for each other, instead of trying to trample each other on an illusionary journey to the peak of internet fame (infamy?)

    Oh no someone hurt my fee fee's on the internet.
    /Block /BuildABridge /MoveOn =)

      Probably the biggest problem is that people consider the real world and the internet to be different.

      Verbal abuse is the same whether its online or face to face. And it is well established that verbal abuse is damaging - especially to children - and unacceptable.

      While the odd random tirade in your direction should be taken better than it is by many in the 'snowflake' generation, abuse is very different.

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