Online Harassment Is Getting Worse

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In 2016, half of Australians had experienced unwanted conflict, character assassinations, sexual harassment or threats of physical violence online. Now that number is at 70 per cent.

Shockingly, 77 per cent of Aussie men surveyed said that they do not know anyone who has suffered from online harassment - despite 70 per cent having experienced it themselves. Y'all need to talk to each other, my dudes.

The figures come from a study by Norton, commissioned through Morar HPI in this year. The survey aimed to understand Australian exposure to online harassment, as well as the impact of these experiences.

The 40+ age group showed the most significant rise in reports - from 37 per cent in 2016 to 61 per cent in 2017. The under 30's continue to be the most targeted age group, with 85 per cent reporting online harassment, as well as being more likely to be victim of more serious forms of online abuse such as online stalking and sexual harassment.

Melissa Dempsey, Senior Director Asia Pacific and Japan at Norton by Symantec said the survey revealed that all members of the community were affected by online harassment, and while the number of incidents in each case may be limited to one or two rare events, it was concerning that the total number of reports had increased.

"Online or cyber harassment continues to be a real threat for both young and old," Dempsey said.

"While the increased number of incidents could be due to people now feeling more confident to speak up, the fact that reports of online bullying and abusive behaviour is on the rise requires immediate action in terms of online users' security and privacy."

One of the stand out results from the survey is that "mild harassment" is now considered just part of a standard internet experience.

Experience of abuse and insults (53 per cent) as well as malicious gossip and rumours (43 per cent) are now "commonplace".

This kind of mild harassment is most commonly experienced amongst younger Australians with 67 per cent reporting abuse and insults, with certain minority groups including the physically disabled (59 per cent), LGBTIQ community (66 per cent) and those with weight issues (66 per cent) or poor mental health (69 per cent) more likely to be victims.

Young adults' regular use of popular social media profiles such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are highlighted as a contributing factor.

Getting more serious, the report of threats of physical violence more than doubled since the last survey - up from 16 per cent to 35 per cent. Younger men and people with minority status are more likely to be targeted.

Online bullying and stalking reports also increased significantly from 20 per cent to 33 per cent, and 15 per cent to 29 per cent respectively. Bullying is especially a concern for younger Australians (57 per cent), those in the LGBTIQA community (55 per cent) and people suffering from poor mental health (48 per cent).

When it came to identifying perpetrators of bullying, men were more likely to say their bullies' identities were unknown (39 per cent) or total strangers (30 per cent). 28 per cent of women who had experienced bullying said that they had been bullied by a former friend or an acquaintance.

While young women were only a little more likely to be targeted by sexual harassment than men, the range and variety of sexual abuse they receive is greater.

Of those that had experienced abuse:

  • 48 per cent of women, compared to 31 per cent of men, said they had people send sexual comments and messages on social media accounts
  • Requests for sexually explicit photographs/images was significantly higher for women, with 44 per cent reporting this complaint, compared to 25 per cent of men
  • Women also reported more instances of receiving unwanted graphic/sexual pornographic material, as well as being harassed for dates by someone who would not take no for an answer

While the study shows most people chose to ignore online harassment, it did reveal that women suffer greater negative emotional impacts than men.

33 per cent of women expressed anger, 32 per cent feel anxious and 29 per cent report feelings of depression. 57 per cent of women who suffered from depression as a result of their experiences had to seek medical help - which confirms the detrimental impact of online harassment on mental health and the need for education around online security.

There aren't any simple answers to solve this problem. But remember - if someone says or does something that is deemed as harassment, you can not only block, mute, report on the relevant site, but you can also report it to the relevant authorities immediately.