The State of Online Harassment: Where Do We Go From Here?

As more people access online technology, issues such as online harassment continue to grow and evolve. In fact, more than 85 million Americans have experienced online harassment, with women often being disproportionately targeted. This leads to 25% of users to completely abandon their online presence. Not only that, but online harassment can actually make its way offline with real-life consequences. These individuals harmed by online harassment often feel isolated and that they do not have the support and community they need to recover. Fortunately, people have begun to recognize the scope and impact of this problem.

OnlineSOS is a nonprofit online safe haven and resource that empowers individuals and journalists facing online harassment. It develops tools and guides for how to respond to specific types of harassment, as well as conducts research and hosts convenings with tech, legal, academic and advocacy stakeholders to find solutions to online harassment. Just recently, Vodafone Americas Foundation partnered with OnlineSOS to support their study about the current state of online harassment and opportunities for stakeholders to collaborate on solutions or advocacy. As a partner to OnlineSOS, Vodafone Americas Foundation believes in the power of this type of collaborative resource to help victims of online attacks. OnlineSOS is one of several female-focused safety online solutions we work with to bring more people the support and solutions they need to fight against and prevent harassment. Other helpful solutions include:

    Circle of 6 – an app that makes it quick and easy to let people in your circle know where you are and how they can help. The team that built the app won the App Against Abuse challenge conducted by the White House in 2011, and has since brought the app into 36 countries around the world, and on college campuses of all sizes across America.

    Safenight – an app for community members who are concerned about domestic violence and looking for a creative way to support programs and survivors. SafeNight alerts individual donors when local domestic violence shelters are full or unavailable and allows donors to donate funds that will support a hotel stay for survivors.

It’s grassroot groups like these that will play a key role in creating change within the ecosystem. It’s important for companies like Vodafone to provide funding in order to create greater impact because we believe in the power of people and technology to help make a difference. OnlineSOS’s report gives us more insight into the reality of online harassment, and can drive further conversation, support and awareness.

A Look inside the Study

The OnlineSOS Report, The State of Online Harassment and Opportunities for Collaboration, not only provides a comprehensive look at the current state of online harassment in the U.S., but it also analyzes the evolution of online harassment, the tactics a targeted individual may experience, and how experts, technology companies, and academics address or approach the topic.

The report finds that women, people of color, religious minorities, and other minority groups are more likely to experience harassment often and with greater intensity. Certain professionals, such as journalists and activists, are also more vulnerable to harassment for simply doing their jobs.

    ● Lack of collaboration to address it: Researchers, organizations, platforms, businesses, and other sectors typically operate in silos.
    ● Business models: Social media platforms have business models that do not incentivize the time, effort, and resources needed to address the root of problems on their platform.
    ● Legal and policy lag: Mechanisms to deter or penalize abusive online behavior are lacking and lagging.
    ● Lack of useful taxonomy: There is no existing shared definition of online harassment and related terms, neither within society, nor among those working to address the issue.
    ● Impact ambiguity: The impact of online harassment on society, business, and democracy remains ambiguous and could be more explicitly discussed.

Coming Together in Solidarity

Online harassment is an epidemic that organizations need to come together to fight against. Online harassment is complex, so mutual understanding and collaboration is critical to systemic change.

In order to effectively shut down online harassment and overcome this immense social challenge, it requires the coordination and cooperation of many stakeholders: technology platforms and corporations like ours, advocacy organizations and professionals, lawmakers and enforcers, legislators, researchers and educators.

With all of the key players engaged, in order to create lasting change, we also need effective and appropriate communication. A common vocabulary needs to be created to allow these different groups of people, from reporters to organizations, to better connect and respond to online harassment. Otherwise, how can we tackle what we can’t appropriately describe or name?

What We Do Now

Looking ahead, it’s crucial we address online harassment now, because we are only catching up. As the internet ecosystem continues to connect people together, we must also find ways to ensure safety and security online. In order to shut down online harassment, we need to protect and help the victims recover and ensure their future safety. This is how the abusers will lose leverage. If we continue to stay silent, the problem won’t change and more victims will be harassed.

It’s companies like OnlineSOS, Circle of 6 and Safenight that can provide a platform for communication and the resources people need, but it takes the wider community of organizations, tech companies, and decision makes to help these companies thrive and reach the people they need to. Huge problems require thorough solutions. To solve them, we need to come together and develop tools, especially in the tech sector, which has access to many resources. As director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation, I am proud to help support OnlineSOS’s mission to combat and eliminate online harassment. We should all become more informed on the situation, and discuss ways in which we can collaborate and take action!