Understanding Online Harassment

Knowing what online harassment looks like is a first step that will help you understand the scope of this problem, what to do to prevent it, and how to react if you experience or witness it.

Sometimes people may feel confused and not understand what kind of abuse they are experiencing. We have created this guide with some basic concepts and explanations about the most common types of online abuse, who are most affected, and some of the most significant impacts on those who experience it.  

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What is online harassment?

For this guide, we will use the term online harassment to describe a wide range of targeted behaviors online perpetuated to scare, intimidate, threaten, or harm. Online harassment can target – or come from – a group or individual, and it might be ongoing and sustained over long periods. 

A 2020 Pew Research Center survey revealed that 41% of Americans have personally experienced some form of online harassment, including offensive name-calling, purposeful embarrassment, stalking, physical threats, harassment over a sustained time, or sexual harassment. 

Who experiences online harassment?

Everyone can experience online harassment, but there is evidence that women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks are disproportionately impacted. According to a
2017 study, 57 percent of people reporting harassment in the U.S. are female, and 46 percent of women worldwide have received sexist or misogynist comments as a form of online abuse. Research has also revealed that female politicians, activists, and journalists, are at higher risk. Furthermore, the 2020 Pew Research Center survey showed that seven in ten of the lesbian, gay or bisexual adults had faced online abuse while only four-in-ten straight adults have endured any form of harassment online.