When somebody famous gets harassed online, it usually makes a stir. The comedian Leslie Jones logged off of Twitter this summer after being barraged with racist and sexist tweets. Last year, Zelda Williams walked away from her account when she was brutally harassed about the death of her father, the actor Robin Williams.
But abuse is a consistent feature of online life, even when it isn’t highly publicized. Nearly half of American internet users have been harassed or abused online, according to a new study published Monday by Data & Society, a technology-focused think tank.
Some groups are more often targeted than others. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual users are more than twice as likely than straight users to experience abuse online, the study found, and although men and women are subject to similar levels of abuse, the attacks on women were often of a more serious nature. Of the 20 categories of harassment the researchers looked at, men were more likely to report being called names and being embarrassed online, while women were more likely to be stalked, sexually harassed, or have false rumors spread about them.
But a person doesn’t have to be the target of abuse for it to color their experience online. More than 70 percent of Americans say they’ve seen others harassed on the internet. For black users, that percentage rose to 78; among younger users and lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans, the proportion is close 90 percent. Groups that were more likely to come into contact with online abuse were also more likely to say that people on the internet are mostly unkind.