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Survey: Harassment a common part of online life

NEW YORK — A new study confirms what many Internet users know all too well: Harassment is a common part of online life.

The first-of-its-kind report by the Pew Research Center found that nearly three-quarters of American adults who use the Internet have witnessed online harassment. Forty percent have experienced it themselves.

The types of harassment Pew asked about range from name-calling to physical threats, sexual harassment, and stalking. Half of those who were harassed said they did not know the person who had most recently attacked them.

Young adults — people 18 to 29 — were the most likely age group to see and undergo online harassment. Women ages 18 to 24 were disproportionately the victims of stalking and sexual harassment, according to the survey. And people who have more information available about themselves online, work in the tech industry, or promote themselves on the Internet were also more likely to be harassed.

Starting this summer, people involved in an online campaign termed ‘‘Gamergate’’ have been harassing several prominent women in the video game industry and their supporters for criticizing the lack of diversity in games and how women are portrayed. One of the targets is Brianna Wu, a software engineer and founder of game developer Giant Spacekat.


This month, people threatened her and her husband with rape, death, and castration on Twitter and posted her address online, she said. She got so frightened that she left her home.

Wu went to the police, but most people harassed online do not. According to Pew, just 5 percent of those who were harassed reported the incident to law enforcement, while nearly half confronted the person online. Forty-four percent said they unfriended or blocked the person.

But victims of harassment often do not know where it is coming from. Thirty-eight percent of people who were harassed online said a stranger was behind the threats, and another 26 percent did not know who the person was.