Few women I know have entered the digital age unscathed. Particularly those of us who work online and therefore expose ourselves to the potential feedback of any anonymous troll (or worse, aggressor) who might not agree with the words we write. Because, in my experience anyhow, the words are rarely offered in simple disagreement and generally include some form of personal attack. I am not alone, not by a long shot. This seems to be the new normal for women especially. Opening up your browser to who knows what. So it really gets my goat when men respond to women being harassed online like it's a big old nothing burger.
A new study from the Pew Research Center found that a full 41 percent of adult Americans have experienced online harassment, and a whopping 66 percent have witnessed the harassment of others. The study defined online harassment as "offensive name-calling, purposeful embarrassment, physical threats, harassment over a sustained period of time, sexual harassment or stalking."
These numbers have been on the rise since 2014, and could continue to rise with the ever-increasing popularity of social media. Young adults experience the most abuse online, and rather surprisingly, a higher percentage of men than women reportedly experience harassment (44 percent to 37 percent). Which is why it's surprising to find out that a higher percentage of men don't consider cyber-bullying as much of a concern as women.
A full 70 percent of women, especially younger women, reportedly believed that online harassment is cause for major concern. Just over half of men felt that same thing. Further, double the number of women over men (35 percent compared to 16 percent) surveyed in the study told researchers that they found their most recent bout of cyber bullying "extremely upsetting or very upsetting." In reality, perhaps the difference lies in the nature of the cyber attack; Half of women between 18 and 29 have been exposed to unwanted explicit content.
And yet, 60 percent of men reported they felt people took offensive content too seriously. Because nothing is as rip-roaring funny as having someone send you a dirty picture you didn't ask for or worse, share a private picture you didn't want shared. Real hilarious.
Of course, it doesn't help that the President of the United States has managed to introduce cyber bullying tweets as a matter of public policy.
Most instances of cyber bullying happen on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat and each have taken steps to protect their users from attacks. Filters, strict user policies, etc. Unfortunately, bullies are ruthless and sharp. They can find insidious routes to get closer to their victims, to hit them where it hurts.
And whether men agree or not, it's serious. Because there's no escaping online harassment, no leaving a bar where a guy is giving you a hard time, no heading home after school to the safety of your own living room. It's omnipresent. It wears a person down into the ground.
And it sure as hell isn't funny.