If you’ve never seen or experienced some form of online harassment, you are in a TINY minority. This was brought home to me recently with the impact of a hammer on a nail. Survey results from a poll by a coalition of three organizations (Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and Craig Connects) got released June 4, and it is a sad story.
Among the “highlights” from the infographic the group produced:
- 47% of respondents under 35 reported being harassed.
- Facebook is a particular hotspot for online harassment.
- Women and men report sexual harassment at nearly identical rates (44% of women, 43% of men).
- Half of the people who were harassed did not report it.
- Nearly 30% of people surveyed report being afraid for their life as a result of online harassment.
- 3 in 5 people surveyed think laws concerning both online and in-person harassment are not strong enough.
Perhaps you are lucky enough to not have experienced harassment online. However, chances are that you’ve seen someone — a friend, colleague, whatever — harassed online. So whether you have experienced it directly or secondhand, you have a stake in changing this. We ALL do.
There’s no doubt that much harassment both exemplifies and reinforces deep and toxic threads of hatred: racism, intolerance, misogyny. But it’s simplistic and unproductive to throw up our hands in the air and simply blame “attitudes” for this problem. To my mind, we fall into one of three categories when it comes to online harassment:
If you’re a harasser: stop it, or the rest of us are going to stop you.
If you’re a victim: don’t swallow this. Don’t hide it, or hide from it. Tell the people who care about you. Take action. Report the behaviour. If you don’t feel strong enough, ask for help with it.
If you’re an onlooker (like me): Step up.
There have been countless examples of people being affected by this, from respected bloggers going silent to comic book artists being threatened with death to people at conferences being harassed online and offline to young people killing themselves. All of it is unacceptable. And we all have two duties: to support those being harassed and to confront the harassers.
There are more of us than them. We don’t need to become virtual lynch mobs, doing to the harassers what they’ve done to others. We just need to tell these bullies that we see them, that they must stop, and that they are not going to do this anymore.
Later on comes the change of attitudes. At some point, we need to figure out why these people are doing what they’re doing, how we can help them understand how wrong it is, and make them change their beliefs. But first, the behaviour has to stop. And the biggest thing you can do? Call people out. And if we become targets, we should expect the same support from others that we give.
Can we eliminate this problem? Not quickly, easily, or likely ever. Can we improve it? Undoubtedly.
Are you looking for more help responding to online harassment? I can’t recommend the organization CiviliNation highly enough. They have lots of resources, and CiviliNation founder Andrea Weckerle’s book Civility in the Digital Age is excellent.