New research released by Symantec's Norton division has revealed "a significant increase in the number of Australians reporting online harassment, jumping 20% in the last year from 50% (2016) to a staggering 70% (2017)".
In an age where technology reigns supreme, this naturally "causes concern about how good online citizenship is constantly neglected, at the expense of the detrimental impact online harassment has on men and women".
Norton says its study "aims to understand Australian exposure to online harassment ranging from unwanted conflict, trolling, character assassinations, and cyberbullying to sexual harassment and threats of physical violence, as well as the impacts of these experiences".
Meanwhile, the under-30s "continue to be the most targeted age group, with 85% reporting online harassment as well as being more likely to be victim of more serious forms of online abuse such as cyber bullying, cyber stalking and sexual harassment".
Melissa Dempsey, senior director, APJ at Norton by Symantec, noted the survey "revealed that all members of the community were affected by online harassment, and while the number of incidents in each case may be limited to one or two rare events, it was concerning that the total number of reports had increased".
Dempsey said: “Online or cyber harassment continues to be a real threat for both young and old.
"While the increased number of incidents could be due to people now feeling more confident to speak up, the fact that reports of online bullying and abusive behaviour is on the rise requires immediate action in terms of online users’ security and privacy.”
Mild harassment now common threat for younger minority groups
The study further reveals that "experience of abuse and insults (53%) as well as malicious gossip and rumours (43%) are now commonplace".
"This kind of mild harassment is most commonly experienced among younger Australians with 67% reporting abuse and insults, with certain minority groups including the physically disabled (59%), LGBTIQ community (66%) and those with weight issues (66%) or poor mental health (69%) more likely to be victims. These high incidences could be attributed to young adults’ regular use of popular social media profiles such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat."
Threats of physical violence, cyber bullying and cyber stalking reports on the rise
Report of threats of physical violence more than doubled since the last survey up from 16% to 35%, with younger men and people with minority status being more likely to be targeted.
Cyber bullying and cyber stalking reports also increased significantly from 20% to 33% and 15% to 29% respectively. Cyber bullying is especially a concern for younger Australians (57%), those in the LGBTIQA community (55%) and people suffering from poor mental health (48%).
When it came to identifying perpetrators of cyber bullying, men were more likely to say their bullies’ identities were unknown (39%) or total strangers (30%). Twenty-eight percent of women who had experienced bullying said that they had been bullied by a former friend or an acquaintance.
While young women were only a little more likely to be targeted by sexual harassment than men, the range and variety of sexual abuse they receive is greater. Of those that had experienced abuse:
- 48% of women compared to 31% of men reported said they had people send sexual comments and messages on social media accounts.
- Requests for sexually explicit photographs/images was significantly higher for women with 44% reporting this complaint than men (25%).
- Women also reported more instances of receiving unwanted graphic/sexual pornographic material as well as being pestered for dates by someone who would not take no for an answer.
- Alarmingly, 77% of men surveyed said that they do not know anyone who has suffered from online harassment. However 70% have experienced it themselves. This indicates that most men do not share these experiences with their peers.
Impact of online harassment
While the study shows that the majority of people chose to ignore forms of online harassment, the survey results did reveal that women suffer greater negative emotional impacts than men, with 33% expressing anger, 32% feeling anxious and 29% reporting feelings of depression. Fifty-seven percent of women who suffered from depression as a result of their experiences had to seek medical help, which confirms the detrimental impact of cyber harassment on mental health and the need for education around online security.
Boosting online protection
“At Norton, our mission is to help protect consumers’ digital safety and help people feel inspired to be confident online users, secure in the knowledge that they are safe from harm. We want to do our part to prevent abuse and harassment by calling on online service providers to be ethical corporate citizens by setting clear community conduct and service standards, and being prepared to enforce them against those whose behavior violates these standards,” Dempsey said.
Norton has identified three steps people should take to help combat online harassment:
1. REVIEW your online presence on all devices:
- Check your security and privacy settings.
- Regularly change passwords.
2. RECOGNISE the problem if it happens and move quickly:
- Do not respond to the perpetrator.
- Keep all records and evidence of the harassment by making a copy of the message, photo or video.
- If you are witness to online harassment, help by supporting the person targeted and, depending on the situation, letting the perpetrators know that their behaviour is not acceptable.
- If someone says or does something that is inappropriate or deemed as harassment, report it to the relevant authorities immediately.
- If inappropriate content is displayed online, contact the website operators by phone or email, requesting the content be removed or blocked.
About the Norton Survey: Online Harassment
Norton by Symantec commissioned an online quantitative survey through Morar HPI in 2017 with a sample size of 1030 adults aged 18 and over. The survey aimed to understand Australian exposure to online harassment and the impact of these experiences.