Locking accounts or criminal charges best to fight online abuse argue teens

Locking accounts or criminal charges best to fight online abuse argue teens

Half of teens think criminal charges or permanent closing of accounts would help a lot to fight bullying and harassment on social media, according to a US survey by Pew Research Center. 46% of teens 13-17 have been bullied online, often because of physical appearance. Especially older teen girls are abused by their appearance.

About four-in-ten teens think that if social media companies looked for and deleted posts they think are bullying or harassing (42%) or if users of these platforms were required to use their real names and pictures (37%) it would help a lot in addressing these issues. 

The idea of forcing people to use their real name while online has long existed and been heavily debated: Proponents see it as a way to hold bad actors accountable and keep online conversations more civil, while detractors believe it would do little to solve harassment and could even worsen it.

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The vast majority of teens say online harassment and online bullying are a problem for people their age, with 53% saying they are a major problem. Just 6% of teens think they are not a problem.

46% of teens ages 13 to 17 report ever experiencing at least one of six cyberbullying behaviors included in the survey. The most commonly reported behavior in this survey is name-calling, with 32% of teens saying they have been called an offensive name online or on their mobile phone. 

22% say they have had false rumors spread about them online or have been sent explicit images they didn’t ask for (17%).

Some 15% of teens say they have experienced someone other than a parent constantly asking them where they are, what they’re doing or who they’re with, while 10% say they have been physically threatened and 7% of teens say they have had explicit images of them shared without their consent.

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In total, 28% of teens have experienced multiple types of cyberbullying.

This survey measures cyberbullying of teens using six behaviors:

  • Offensive name-calling
  • Spreading of false rumors about them
  • Receiving explicit images they didn’t ask for
  • Physical threats
  • Constantly being asked where they are, what they’re doing, or who they’re with by someone other than a parent
  • Having explicit images of them shared without their consent

Teens’ experiences with online harassment vary by age, the report says.  49% of 15- to 17-year-olds have experienced at least one of the six online behaviors, compared with 42% of those ages 13 to 14. While similar shares of older and younger teens report being the target of name-calling or rumor spreading, older teens are more likely than their younger counterparts (22% vs. 11%) to say someone has sent them explicit images they didn’t ask for, an act sometimes referred to as cyberflashing; had someone share explicit images of them without their consent, in what is also known as revenge porn (8% vs. 4%); or been the target of persistent questioning about their whereabouts and activities (17% vs. 12%).

“While there is no gender difference in having ever experienced online abuse, teen girls are more likely than teen boys to say false rumors have been spread about them. But further differences are seen when looking at age and gender together: 15- to 17-year-old girls stand out for being particularly likely to have faced any cyberbullying, compared with younger teen girls and teen boys of any age.” 

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54% of girls ages 15 to 17 have experienced at least one of the six cyberbullying behaviors, while 44% of 15- to 17-year-old boys and 41% of boys and girls ages 13 to 14 say the same. These older teen girls are also more likely than younger teen girls and teen boys of any age to report being the target of false rumors and constant monitoring by someone other than a parent.

Beyond those differences related to specific harassing behaviors, older teen girls are particularly likely to say they experience multiple types of online harassment. Some 32% of teen girls have experienced two or more types of online harassment while 24% of teen boys say the same. 

And 15- to 17-year-olds are more likely than 13- to 14-year-olds to have been the target of multiple types of cyberbullying (32% vs. 22%).

These differences are largely driven by older teen girls: 38% of teen girls ages 15 to 17 have experienced at least two of the harassing behaviors asked about in this survey, while roughly a quarter of younger teen girls and teen boys of any age say the same.

Beyond demographic differences, being the target of these behaviors and facing multiple types of these behaviors also vary by the amount of time youth spend online. Teens who say they are online almost constantly are not only more likely to have ever been harassed online than those who report being online less often (53% vs 40%), but are also more likely to have faced multiple forms of online abuse (37% vs. 21%).

Black teens are about twice as likely as Hispanic or White teens to say they think their race or ethnicity made them a target of online abuse.

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Teens are most likely to say their physical appearance made them the target of cyberbullying. Some 15% of all teens think they were cyberbullied because of their appearance.

About one-in-ten teens say they were targeted because of their gender (10%) or their race or ethnicity (9%). Teens less commonly report being harassed for their sexual orientation or their political views – just 5% each.

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