Harassment ranged from mild — such as name-calling — to stalking or physical threats, according to the Pew Research Center survey.
“We know from previous research that people see both kindness and cruelty online,” said Pew lead researcher Maeve Duggan.
“It was striking to see how different varieties of harassment impacted different groups on different platforms, and the range of reactions online harassment elicited.”
Among the Internet users surveyed, 27 percent said they had been called offensive names, 22 percent had someone try to purposefully embarrass them and eight percent had been either stalked or physically threatened. Six percent reported being sexually harassed online.
In terms of being aware of harassment of others, 53 percent had seen efforts to purposefully embarrass someone. One in four knew of physical threats and nearly one in five reported being aware of someone being sexually harassed or stalked.
Those in the 18-19 age group were the most likely to both witness and experience online harassment. Some 65 percent of these young Internet users reported being a target of online harassment and 92 percent had witnessed it, the report said.
Men were more likely to experience name-calling and embarrassment, and young women more frequently victims of sexual harassment and stalking.
Among women aged 18-24, one in four said they had been stalked online or were the target of online sexual harassment.
Many of the offensive actions came through social media — two-third of incidents were said to occur on these platforms — with the comments sections of website cited in 22 percent of cases and online gaming communities in 16 percent.
Of those who had experienced online harassment, 60 percent decided to ignore their most recent incident, with 40 percent taking steps to respond. Some of the steps including “unfriending” or blocking, while others changed their user name or withdrew from the forum or social network. Five percent reported the matter to law enforcement.
The harassment took an emotional toll on its victims, according to the researchers: one-third of victims said the actions were “extremely” or “somewhat” upsetting, and 15 percent said it impacted their reputation.
An overwhelming 92 percent said the online environment allows people to be more critical compared with the offline world, but 68 percent said the Internet helped people be more supportive of one another.
The research was the first by Pew on this subject, and was based on an online and mail survey of 3,217 US adults, including 2,849 Internet users. The margin of error was estimated at 2.4 percentage points. – AFP