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And almost one-quarter of Americans 50 and older (22%) have been the target of online harassment, an increase of 5 percentage points from 2014.
This study measures the prevalence and patterns of online harassment by examining six broad categories of abusive behavior (see “Defining online harassment” in the accompanying box).
These categories are identical to those used in Pew Research Center’s 2014 examination of online harassment.
But for this analysis, the 18% of Americans who have encountered of these serious behaviors are referred to as targets of “severe” forms of online harassment.
As will be discussed later in this report, those who face these more serious behaviors are generally more likely to report significant negative consequences from their experiences.
Smaller – though still notable – shares of Americans have encountered more pernicious forms of harassment. adults have experienced one or more of these “severe” behaviors online.
One-in-ten have had physical threats directed at them online, while 7% each have encountered sustained harassment or stalking, and 6% have been sexually harassed. To be sure, these more serious behaviors are not isolated from name-calling and embarrassment: 72% of those who have experienced these more serious types of harassment have also been called offensive names or purposefully embarrassed.
Men are somewhat more likely to be called offensive names (30% vs.
23%) and to receive physical threats online (12% vs.
While these experiences can certainly be troubling, those whose encounters with harassment are limited to these behaviors generally find them to be a tolerable nuisance of life online.
Throughout this report, the 22% of adults who have experienced name-calling or efforts to embarrass them – and none of the other four experiences measured in the survey – are referred to as targets of “less severe” forms of online harassment.
Although young people are exposed to harassment online at especially high levels, the proportion of Americans in other age groups who experience online harassment is notable – and growing.