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Harassed on Facebook or Twitter? You're not the only one: poll

By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -

Nearly half of Americans under 35 have been bullied, harassed or threatened online, while women make up 57 percent of victims, according to a new survey by online advocacy groups.

Sixty-two percent of the 1,007 people over 18 surveyed said the harassment happened on Facebook, while 24 percent was on Twitter, according to a poll (http://bit.ly/1ikoPgU) conducted by Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies and Craig Newmark - the founder of the Craigslist classified ads site.

More than two-thirds (67 percent) of those harassed online knew their harasser in real life, while in the under-35 age group, that number rose to 72 percent.

“The first step toward dealing with unacceptable behavior: understand the problem, then we can get rid of it,” Craig Newmark said.

The survey, conducted between May 20 and 22, found that sexual harassment is the most common form of online abuse (44 percent), followed by abuse about professional ability (28 percent), about a person’s race (23 percent) and homophobic remarks (14 percent).

Overall, the poll found that a quarter of Americans said they have been victims of cyber abuse.

Legislation to tackle cyber abuse is still patchy in the United States. There are a handful of laws at the federal level for cases of cyber-stalking, as Los Angeles-based journalist Amanda Hess wrote earlier this year in a series about women and online abuse (http://bit.ly/1gB2nAZ).

Yet 62 percent of the online harassment poll respondents said that laws to tackle online abuse are not strong enough or are nonexistent.

A major problem, besides pinning down the abuser, is the fleeting nature of the web, where comments and profiles can easily be deleted while retrieving them would require will and ability.

It is also difficult to fully grasp the tone of threats made online, though the impact can be powerful and crippling.

Almost 30 percent of respondents said that after receiving online threats, they were scared for their lives, and 20 percent said they were scared to leave their homes. 

(Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, covers underreported humanitarian, human rights, corruption and climate change issues. Visit www.trust.org)

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