Abuse Is Common On Social Networking Sites, But Reporting It Isn’t

Social Networks
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A recent survey from Harris Interactive of 5,517 UK citizens found that one in 12 (8%) users of social media sites have been the victims of online abuse in some form or another. That part of the story won't surprise anyone who's spent even a marginal amount of time on the Internet. We've seen time and time again that when you put people behind a screen name, the anonymity creates a sense of invincibility and depersonalization that makes it easier to bully others.

The part of the story may be a surprise to some is the response we are taking to online abuse. Only a third (35%) of participants in the study said they reported their abuse to the social media platform on which it took place. Half said they would have reported it, if only they knew how. Another 12% said they chose to respond to the problem by turning the situation around and bullying their abusers.

"It's interesting to note the high percentage of people who say they would have reported the abuse had they known how to, or if the process was simpler," Lee Langford, research director for telecoms, media, technology and entertainment at Harris Interactive, said. "More steps need to be taken by networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Ask.fm, to increase the effectiveness of reporting tools to prevent trolling."

Another survey, conducted by campaign group Bullies Out, found that 50% of their response pool had been victims of cyber bullies, some of whom were as young as seven years old. The CEO of BeatBullying, Emma-Jane Cross, believes both the problem and the solution lie with the social networking sites themselves. "Social networking sites need to take their users' safety seriously," she said, "which includes making reporting procedures much clearer and ensuring a swift response when abuse is recorded."

The difficulty in reporting abuse on websites is that it isn't just used for reporting abuse. Even the system for reporting abuse is abused. In many cases, a disgruntled user files an unwarranted abuse report simply to get another user in trouble and exact revenge. There is no system in place to distinguish malicious abuse reports from real abuse reports, meaning that many are never taken seriously.

So what can you do? We can't eradicate abuse from the Internet completely, but there are a few steps that can be taken to decrease the likelihood of bullying:

  • Only post things you want the public to know. Once something is online, it is no longer under your control.
  • Guard your personal information closely, and ask your friends to do the same. Request that they not post personal info, negative comments, check-ins, or any other information that you're not comfortable sharing.
  • Don't say or do anything online you wouldn't in person. It may seem easier to express yourself when you are not face-to-face, but don't forget that online communication has real-life consequences.
  • Always report inappropriate behavior, harassing messages, and abusive comments to the site administrators. Even a small amount of action is better than no action.