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June 16, 2019
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cyberbullying

2018 really was more of a dumpster fire for online hate and harassment, ADL study finds

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Around 37 percent of Americans were subjected to severe hate and harassment online in 2018, according to a new study by the Anti-Defamation League, up from about 18 percent in 2017. And over half of all Americans experienced some form of harassment according to the ADL study.

Facebook users bore the brunt of online harassment on social networking sites according to the ADL study, with around 56 percent of survey respondents indicating that at least some of their harassment occurred on the platform. — unsurprising given Facebook’s status as the dominant social media platform in the U.S.

Around 19 percent of people said they experienced severe harassment on Twitter (only 19 percent? That seems low); while 17 percent reported harassment on YouTube; 16 percent on Instagram; and 13 percent on WhatsApp .

Chart courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League

In all, the blue ribbon standards for odiousness went to Twitch, Reddit, Facebook and Discord, when the ADL confined their surveys to daily active users. nearly half of all daily users on Twitch have experienced harassment, the report indicated. Around 38% of Reddit users, 37% of daily Facebook users, and 36% of daily Discord users reported being harassed.

“It’s deeply disturbing to see how prevalent online hate is, and how it affects so many Americans,” said ADL chief executive Jonathan A. Greenblatt. “Cyberhate is not limited to what’s solely behind a screen; it can have grave effects on the quality of everyday lives – both online and offline. People are experiencing hate and harassment online every day and some are even changing their habits to avoid contact with their harassers.”

And the survey respondents seem to think that online hate makes people more susceptible to committing hate crimes, according to the ADL.

The ADL also found that most Americans want policymakers to strengthen laws and improve resources for police around cyberbullying and cyberhate. Roughly 80 percent said they wanted to see more action from lawmakers.

Even more Americans, or around 84 percent, think that the technology platforms themselves need to do more work to curb the harassment, hate, and hazing they see on social applications and websites.

As for the populations that were most at risk to harassment and hate online, members of the LGBTQ community were targeted most frequently, according to the study. Some 63 percent of people identifying as LGBTQ+ said they were targeted for online harassment because of their identity.

“More must be done in our society to lessen the prevalence of cyberhate,” said Greenblatt. “There are key actions every sector can take to help ensure more Americans are not subjected to this kind of behavior. The only way we can combat online hate is by working together, and that’s what ADL is dedicated to doing every day.”

The report also revealed that cyberbullying had real consequences on user behavior. Of the survey respondents 38 percent stopped, reduced or changed online activities, and 15 percent took steps to reduce risks to their physical safety.

Interviews for the survey were conducted between Dec. 17 to Dec. 27, 2018 by the public opinion and data analysis company YouGov, and was conducted by the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society. The non-profit admitted that it oversampled for respondents who identified as Jewish, Muslim, African American, Asian AMerican or LGBTQ+ to “understand the experiences of individuals who may be especially targeted because of their group identity.”

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, according to a statement from the ADL.

Pew: A majority of U.S. teens are bullied online

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A majority of U.S. teens have been subject to online abuse, according to a new study from Pew Research Center, out this morning. Specifically, that means they’ve experienced at least one of a half-dozen types of online cyberbullying, including name-calling, being subject to false rumors, receiving explicit images they didn’t ask for, having explicit images of themselves shared without their consent, physical threats, or being constantly asked about their location and activities in a stalker-ish fashion by someone who is not their parents.

Of these, name-calling and being subject to false rumors were the top two categories of abuse teens were subject to, with 42% and 32% of teens reporting it had happened to them.

 

 

 

Pew says that texting and digital messaging has paved the way for these types of interactions, and parents and teens alike are both aware of the dangers and concerned.

Parents, in particular, are worried about teens sending and receiving explicit images, with 57% saying that’s a concern, and a quarter who worry about this “a lot.” And parents of girls worry more. (64% do.)

Meanwhile, a large majority – 90% – of teens now believe that online harassment is a problem and 63% say it’s what they consider a “major” problem.

Pew also found that girls and boys are both harassed online in fairly equal measure, with 60% of girls and 59% of boys reporting having experienced some sort of online abuse. That’s a figure that may surprise some. However, it’s important to clarify that this finding is about whether or not the teen had ever had experienced online abuse – not how often or how much.

Not surprisingly, Pew found that girls are more likely than boys to have experienced two or more types of abuse, and 15% of girls have been the target of at least 4 types of abuse, compared with 6% of boys.

Girls are also more likely to be the recipient of explicit images they didn’t ask for, as 29% of teens girls reported this happened to them, versus 20% of boys.

And as the teen girls got older, they receive even more of these types of images, with 35% of girls ages 15 to 17 saying they received them, compared with only 1 out of 5 boys.

Several factors seem to play no role in how often the teens experience abuse, including race, ethnicity, or parents’ educational attainment, Pew noted. But having money does seem to matter somehow – as 24% of teens whose household income was less than $30K per year said they received online threats, compared with only 12% of those whose household incomes was greater than $75K per year. (Pew’s report doesn’t attempt to explain this finding.)

Beyond that factor, receiving or avoiding abuse is directly tied to how much screen time teens put in.

That is, the more teens go online, the more abuse they’ll receive.

45% of teens say they’re online almost constantly, and they are more likely to be harassed, as a result. 67% of them say they’ve been cyberbullied, compared with 53% who use the internet several times a day or less. And half the constantly online teens have been called offensive names, compared with just about a third (36%) who use the internet less often.

Major tech companies, including Apple, Google, and Facebook, have begun to address the issues around device addiction and screen time with software updates and parental controls.

Apple, in iOS 12, rolled out Screen Time controls that allows Apple device users to measure, monitor and restrict how often they’re on their phones, when, what type of content is blocked, and which apps they can use. In adults, the software can nudge them in the right direction, but parents also have the option of locking down their children’s phones using Screen Time controls. (Of course, savvy kids have already found the loopholes to avoid this, according to new reports.)

Google also introduced time management controls in the new version of Android, and offers parental controls around screen time through its Family Link software.

And both Google and Facebook have begun to introduce screen time reminders and settings for addictive apps like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

Teens seem to respect parents’ involvement in their digital lives, the report also found.

A majority – 59% – of U.S. teens say their parents are doing a good job with regard to addressing online harassment. However, 79% say elected officials are failing to protect them through legislation, 66% say social media sites are doing a poor job at stamping down abuse, and 58% of teachers are doing a poor job at handling abuse, as well.

Many of the top media sites were largely built by young people when they were first founded, and those people were often men. The sites were created in an almost naive fashion, with regard to online abuse. Protections – like muting, filters, blocking, and reporting, were generally introduced in a reactive fashion, not as proactive controls.

Instagram, for example – one of teens’ most-used apps – only introduced comment filters, blocklists, and comment blocking in 2016, and just four months ago added account muting. The app was launched in October 2010.

Pew’s findings indicate that parents would do well by their kids by using screen time management and control systems – not simply to stop their teenagers from being bullied and abused as often, but also to help the teens practice how to interact with the web in a less addictive fashion as they grow into adults.

After all, device addiction resulting in increased exposure to online abuse is not a plague that only affects teens.

Pew’s full study involves surveys of 743 teens and 1,058 parents living in the U.S. conducted March 7 to April 10, 2018. It counted “teens” as those ages 13 to 17, and “parents of teens” are those who are the parent or guardian of someone in that age range. The full report is here.

Tall Poppy aims to make online harassment protection an employee benefit

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For the nearly 20 percent of Americans who experience severe online harassment, there’s a new company launching in the latest batch of Y Combinator called Tall Poppy that’s giving them the tools to fight back.

Co-founded by Leigh Honeywell and Logan Dean, Tall Poppy grew out of the work that Honeywell, a security specialist, had been doing to hunt down trolls in online communities since at least 2008.

That was the year that Honeywell first went after a particularly noxious specimen who spent his time sending death threats to women in various Linux communities. Honeywell cooperated with law enforcement to try and track down the troll and eventually pushed the commenter into hiding after he was visited by investigators.

That early success led Honeywell to assume a not-so-secret identity as a security expert by day for companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, and Slack, and a defender against online harassment when she wasn’t at work.

“It was an accidental thing that I got into this work,” says Honeywell. “It’s sort of an occupational hazard of being an internet feminist.”

Honeywell started working one-on-one with victims of online harassment that would be referred to her directly.

“As people were coming forward with #metoo… I was working with a number of high profile folks to essentially batten down the hatches,” says Honeywell. “It’s been satisfying work helping people get back a sense of safety when they feel like they have lost it.”

As those referrals began to climb (eventually numbering in the low hundreds of cases), Honeywell began to think about ways to systematize her approach so it could reach the widest number of people possible.

“The reason we’re doing it that way is to help scale up,” says Honeywell. “As with everything in computer security it’s an arms race… As you learn to combat abuse the abusive people adopt technologies and learn new tactics and ways to get around it.”

Primarily, Tall Poppy will provide an educational toolkit to help people lock down their own presence and do incident response properly, says Honeywell. The company will work with customers to gain an understanding of how to protect themselves, but also to be aware of the laws in each state that they can use to protect themselves and punish their attackers.

The scope of the problem

Based on research conducted by the Pew Foundation, there are millions of people in the U.S. alone, who could benefit from the type of service that Tall Poppy aims to provide.

According to a 2017 study, “nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) have been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.”

The women and minorities that bear the brunt of these assaults (and, let’s be clear, it is primarily women and minorities who bear the brunt of these assaults), face very real consequences from these virtual assaults.

Take the case of the New York principal who lost her job when an ex-boyfriend sent stolen photographs of her to the New York Post and her boss. In a powerful piece for Jezebel she wrote about the consequences of her harassment.

As a result, city investigators escorted me out of my school pending an investigation. The subsequent investigation quickly showed that I was set up by my abuser. Still, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration demoted me from principal to teacher, slashed my pay in half, and sent me to a rubber room, the DOE’s notorious reassignment centers where hundreds of unwanted employees languish until they are fired or forgotten.

In 2016, I took a yearlong medical leave from the DOE to treat extreme post-traumatic stress and anxiety. Since the leave was almost entirely unpaid, I took loans against my pension to get by. I ran out of money in early 2017 and reported back to the department, where I was quickly sent to an administrative trial. There the city tried to terminate me. I was charged with eight counts of misconduct despite the conclusion by all parties that my ex-partner uploaded the photos to the computer and that there was no evidence to back up his salacious story. I was accused of bringing “widespread negative publicity, ridicule and notoriety” to the school system, as well as “failing to safeguard a Department of Education computer” from my abusive ex.

Her story isn’t unique. Victims of online harassment regularly face serious consequences from online harassment.

According to a  2013 Science Daily study, cyber stalking victims routinely need to take time off from work, or change or quit their job or school. And the stalking costs the victims $1200 on average to even attempt to address the harassment, the study said.

“It’s this widespread problem and the platforms have in many ways have dropped the ball on this,” Honeywell says.

Tall Poppy’s co-founders

Creating Tall Poppy

As Honeywell heard more and more stories of online intimidation and assault, she started laying the groundwork for the service that would eventually become Tall Poppy. Through a mutual friend she reached out to Dean, a talented coder who had been working at Ticketfly before its Eventbrite acquisition and was looking for a new opportunity.

That was in early 2015. But, afraid that striking out on her own would affect her citizenship status (Honeywell is Canadian), she and Dean waited before making the move to finally start the company.

What ultimately convinced them was the election of Donald Trump.

“After the election I had a heart-to-heart with myself… And I decided that I could move back to Canada, but I wanted to stay and fight,” Honeywell says.

Initially, Honeywell took on a year-long fellowship with the American Civil Liberties Union to pick up on work around privacy and security that had been handled by Chris Soghoian who had left to take a position with Senator Ron Wyden’s office.

But the idea for Tall Poppy remained, and once Honeywell received her green card, she was “chomping at the bit to start this company.”

A few months in the company already has businesses that have signed up for the services and tools it provides to help companies protect their employees.

Some platforms have taken small steps against online harassment. Facebook, for instance, launched an initiative to get people to upload their nude pictures  so that the social network can monitor when similar images are distributed online and contact a user to see if the distribution is consensual.

Meanwhile, Twitter has made a series of changes to its algorithm to combat online abuse.

“People were shocked and horrified that people were trying this,” Honeywell says. “[But] what is the way [harassers] can do the most damage? Sharing them to Facebook is one of the ways where they can do the most damage. It was a worthwhile experiment.”

To underscore how pervasive a problem online harassment is, out of the four companies where the company is doing business or could do business in the first month and a half there is already an issue that the company is addressing. 

“It is an important problem to work on,” says Honeywell. “My recurring realization is that the cavalry is not coming.”

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