More and more, the legal issues surrounding online harassment are garnering attention. Recently, the Supreme Court waded into new territory by deciding to hear a case (Elonis vs The United States) over whether online threats constitute a viable threat. The question we wanted to answer: Given the prevalence of the internet and social media in our daily lives, who are Americans looking to when it comes to regulating and monitoring content on the internet? When we talk about online harassment, where regulation is currently left to ISPs and the social media networks themselves, is there common ground among Americans or is this an issue that tends to have two distinct camps of thought?
In 2014, we teamed up with Rad Campaign to analyze Americans’ attitudes towards both online harassment and the laws surrounding it. We surveyed 1,007 Americans over the age of 18 about their experience with online harassment and their views on online privacy. Focusing mainly on general issues related to being online, we asked people what they were most worried about ranging from identity theft, to hacked email, to unknowingly placed tracking cookies, to online bullying. Respondents were also asked how often they think such incidences happen and whether they had experienced anything themselves. We then got more detailed answers from those who said they had experienced online bullying.
When we realized the 2016 election cycle was going to be quite hostile, we teamed up with Rad Campaign again to retest American attitudes on online harassment. Building on our 2014 work, we dug deeper to see if people were comfortable with expressing their political views online and how they interacted with other people online when it came to politics. The goal, in the end, was to see if people thought online harassment increased from 2014 and if they thought it had anything to do with politics.
Overall, we found that Americans’ concerns have remained consistent, with downloading a virus remaining the top concern. Additionally, reports of invasions of online privacy have generally declined, and Americans are overall less likely to say that these concerns actually happen on a frequent basis. People have mixed beliefs on whether current laws are adequate in protecting online activity, while there is very little trust in social media sites to protect the privacy of Americans’ personal information.
As a part of a major media campaign from Rad Campaign, our results were picked up by multiple major media outlets, including the Washington Post, CNN Money, the Huffington Post, Policy.Mic, PR Newswire, and the Daily Dot.
See the infographic from 2016, which includes our results on online aggressiveness among certain political supporters, by clicking here.