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Online harassment doesn’t seem to be getting any better

Even Twitter's head of safety doesn't go by her real name.


Jaya Saxena


Posted on Aug 4, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 8:15 am CDT

Over the past two years, many social media companies have insisted they’re trying to curb online harassment. However, according to a new study, online harassment is as bad as it’s ever been—and in some cases, maybe it’s gotten worse? 

The survey, conducted by Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist (yes, that Craig), shows that rates of harassment have not changed much since 2014. There’s been a slight reduction in American adults who have experienced or known someone who has experienced online harassment (22 percent, down from 25 percent), and sexual harassment has declined drastically. However, because we’re in an election year, that seems to have been replaced with political harassment.

The survey also shows that people of color and women are most likely to be harassed, and that most abuse takes place on Facebook. Allyson Kapin of Rad Campaign, a partner with Newmark in the poll, said in a press release, “Clearly, we need to institute better tools, algorithms, and policies to support and empower people online, such as better methods for reporting harassment, as well as more effective and timely responses from the social networks themselves.”

Social networks regularly insist that safety is paramount. Instagram recently announced it’s rolling out a new way to filter comments, Twitter made updates to its block feature, and Facebook’s privacy officer Erin Egan told the Daily Dot that the company takes harassment very seriously. However, a regular user of those platforms has probably experienced abuse, either personally or by watching it happen to someone else.

Even Del Harvey, the head of Twitter’s Trust and Safety team, doesn’t use her real name, according to Elle. This was due to her past work with Perverted Justice, where she posed as a child “to conduct sting operations on adults attempting to solicit minors for sex online,” so it’s understandable why she’d want to keep her legal identity protected. But it doesn’t inspire much confidence in the platform that she still goes by a pseudonym.

In her defense, maybe this is because the survey shows how hard it is to separate social media from IRL: 61 percent of people harassed online knew their harasser in real life. 

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*First Published: Aug 4, 2016, 11:26 am CDT