Taking a stand against online harassment

U-News Staff

The Internet is a wonderful place. It fosters creativity and ingenuity and we would be lost without it. However, look into any online comment section, thread forum or chat room and you will begin to understand that there is a dark side of the Internet, as well.

Online harassment has become a major issue. Not many people can say they have used any form of online platform and not witnessed some form of harassment. According to the Pew Research Center, over 73 percent of adult Internet users polled stated they had seen some form of online harassment. Of that figure, 40 percent have experienced it personally.

This is a staggering figure and when it is broken down to the type of harassment, it becomes clear there is a serious problem that many face when they login online. Over 18 percent of adult Internet users have experienced some form of severe harassment. This includes being physically threatened and sexually assaulted.

Who are the victims? The primary target subject to this form of harassment is women and minorities. The recent exposure of hundreds of female celebrity nude photos is an example of how pervasive this issue is right now. The comments that followed ranged from messages of support to calling the celebrities “sluts” and “whores.”

Why does this happen? Harassment has long been a topic of discussion. Workshops and seminars are a common staple in offices and universities. Why is it so pervasive online?

There is the aspect of anonymity to consider. Online, the harassment can occur over a distance of hundreds of miles. That is what makes online harassment so scary. Unlike what happens in real life situations, online a harassed person can never know who is causing them so much anxiety and fear. They may live a block away or three cities away.

Many are afraid to speak out against such behavior and those who do are subject to a flurry of harsh attacks.  Female activist and gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel an event at Utah State University when a threat was made against her life and all those attending. Campus police told her they could not guarantee the security of the event because of Utah state gun laws. Actress Felicia Day had her personal information hacked and posted online an hour after she commented on how she was afraid of Internet trolls.

This type of behavior has to stop and the only way it can be done is if people take a stance against it. There is power in numbers, and with 73 percent of adult Internet users witnessing this type of behavior, it is possible to stop online harassment. If you see it happening, flag the comment and report the incident. All social media platforms are required to have some protocol to deal with harassment. If it is a threat of violence, report it to the local police. These issues have to be taken seriously and that will happen only when a large enough group stands up to fight them.