Crossing the line: what counts as online harassment?

Social media Digital communications Online harassment United States of America

In an effort to examine more deeply where people “draw the line” when it comes to online harassment, the Center conducted a survey in which respondents were presented with fictional scenarios depicting different types of escalating online interactions. The survey then asked them to indicate which specific elements of the story they considered to be harassment.

Their answers indicate that Americans broadly agree that certain behaviors are beyond the pale. For instance, in various contexts most agree that online harassment occurs when people make direct personal threats against others. At the same time, the public is much more divided over whether or not other behaviors – such as sending unkind messages or publicly sharing a private conversation – constitute online harassment.

In two vignettes, respondents were asked if and when the social media platforms where the incidents were occurring should have stepped in and addressed the unfolding events. Again, majorities agree that the platforms should step in to address behaviors such as threatening messages. But public views are more split when it comes to the responsibilities of the platforms at other points in these incidents.

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