A survey released by Pew Research Center shows that roughly four-in-ten Americans have personally experienced online harassment, most commonly on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
The survey shows 41% of 4,248 respondents have been subjected to online harassing behaviour such as offensive name-calling and embarrassment, up from 35% in 2014 when the think tank last conducted a similar survey.
Nearly one-in-five said they experienced more severe forms of harassment such as physical threats, stalking and sexual harassment.
While men are more likely than women to experience online harassment overall – 44% versus 37% – women, particularly young women, are more likely to be the targets of sexualized forms of online abuse. Two-in-ten women ages 18 to 29 said they have been sexually harassed online, and just over half said they have been sent explicit images they did not ask for, according to the survey.
The most common venue for online harassment was social media, with 58% saying their most recent incident happened on a social media platform.
Social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s Google enjoy broad protections under federal law for content that users post on their services. Merely hosting third-party content that is objectionable or even illegal does not expose those companies to litigation as long as they adopt reasonable takedown policies.
The companies do enforce their own terms of service, which restrict many types of images. They rely heavily on users to report violations, which are then reviewed by employees or contractors for possible removal.