Image: AP/Gizmodo

A nationally-representative study on online harassment released by Pew Research today confirms what most of us already know: the internet is absolutely chock full of abusive shitheads.

The study leads with an alarming figure: 40 percent of internet users have been the target of abusive behavior online. That number climbs to 67 percent for young people between the ages of 18 and 29, who are more likely to spend considerable time each day on the internet. And while Pew’s findings reveal that men are targeted somewhat more often, women—especially young women—make up an outsized proportion of users who experience the most severe forms of harassment, like stalking and threats.

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Are these surprising findings? No. Most people who are frequently online know these things intuitively. It’s why countless articles have been written and countless grassroots campaigns have been started calling for better user protections, sometimes resulting in a new feature or Terms of Use amendment on one platform or another. It would follow that better user tracking, new anti-abuse features, and algorithmic tweaks to weed out low-value interactions would all be working to make the internet safer and friendlier.

However, Pew performed a very similar survey back in 2014 which found that 40 percent of people online had been harassment targets. And that 65 percent of young people aged 18 to 29 had been targets. The incidence of harassment by gender is static at 44 percent vs. 37 percent. Women remain far more likely to experience severe harassment. Down the line, the numbers in each study are nearly identical, or at least within their respective margins of error (2.4 and 2.9 percent).

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Either the anti-abuse features being created by platforms aren’t working at all, or they’re not effectively keeping pace with new ways harassment is being coordinated and carried out.

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If Pew conducts this survey again in 2020, perhaps nothing will have changed then either. The internet is people, and maybe there’s a consistent number of people who simply want to be jerks, and will always find a way to be jerks. Or maybe in three years we’ll look back and wonder why the hell anyone would ever want to post something publicly online in the first place.