Millennials are the most likely demographic to be harassed online, and the attacks are heating up along with the 2016 election.
A survey from Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark reveals that millennials are often attacked by people they know on social media, and these attacks are most common among the 18-34 age group.
Forty-seven percent of millennials reported experiencing online harassment and 72 percent knew the person harassing them.
“Some of the social networks have started using algorithms, reporting tools, and keyword filtering, but it’s not enough,” Newmark told Mic. “We’ve got to do better, and that means all of us showing zero tolerance for bad actors.”
Despite these safeguards set in place by social networking sites, 48 percent of Americans believe that laws to guard against harassment are not strong enough.
The survey uncovered another interesting fact: Sexual harassment is on the decline and political harassment is increasing.
“Sexual harassment showed a decline by almost half (falling from 44% in 2014, to 27% in 2016), while political harassment almost doubled from 16% in 2014 to 30% in 2016, leading up to the U.S. presidential election,” according to the survey’s summary.
In other words, the more politically outspoken millennials are, the more at-risk they become for experiencing harassment from followers with differing opinions.
This is the predicament that social networking platforms face. The users exercising their First Amendment rights in regards to the election are, in essence, inviting the attack of other users, also exercising their First Amendment rights to disagree, albeit quite unkindly.
As seen from the firestorm created by Twitter’s ban of Milo Yiannopolous, the amount of free speech allowed for users appears to be left up to the platform’s interpretation.
“People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter,” said a statement released by Twitter following the ban. “But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.”
The problem is that no one seems to be sure where the line is between free speech and harassment. Sexual harassment is one thing. But when young people express their opinions online, they are being naïve if they assume they won’t experience some backlash.
This is unfortunate, because free speech has been infringed upon time and time again, all for the sake of protecting someone’s feelings, so it is growing increasingly difficult to determine what should actually be considered harassment.
“What we’re seeing by examining trends longitudinally is that online harassment is not an easy fix,” said Allyson Kapin of Rad Campaign. “Despite some efforts by social networks to incorporate policies to stop online harassment, the problem is not going away.”