23/10/2017 9:08 AM IST

The Internet Is Getting Nastier And Women And Minorities Are Feeling The Brunt Of It

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A staggering 70 percent of people responding to the survey reported some form of harassment or abuse in 2017.

The internet is making everyone aggro, it's seriously damaging our ability to get along and women and minorities are copping the brunt of it.

And it's not a generational thing either. Older Australians are reporting more online abuse than ever before, a new report shows.

There's been a significant jump in the number of Australians reporting online harassment, with a staggering 70 percent of of respondents reporting some form of harassment or abuse this year.

The study, by internet security company Norton by Symantec, came across our desks at an interesting time. Last week a high school Facebook group became "ground zero" for the harassment and abuse of poet Ellen van Neerven, author of the poem Mango which itself is the focus of an HSC English exam.

The Norton report -- released last week -- shows an increase of people experiencing online harassment across all age groups, with 40+ age group showing the most significant rise in reports from 37 percent in 2016 to 61 percent in 2017.

Norton's second Online Harassment Survey found:

  • A general increase of people across all age groups experiencing online harassment;
  • Abuse, insults, malicious gossip and being subject to rumours has become commonplace;
  • Minority groups are suffering as a result, including LGBTIQ, those with poor mental health and weight issues;
  • Men do not share experiences with peers, withdrawing even more from society, and;
  • More women receive unwanted graphic / sexual pornographic material

But under 30s continue to be the most targeted age group, with 85 percent reporting online harassment as well as being more likely to be victim of more serious forms of online abuse such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking and sexual harassment.

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When it comes to identifying perpetrators of cyberbullying, men were more likely to say their bullies' identities were unknown or total strangers.

Women suffer greater negative emotional impacts than men, with 33 percent expressing anger, 32 percent feeling anxious and 29 percent reporting feelings of depression.

More than half of women who suffered from depression as a result of their experiences had to seek medical help, which the report authors said confirmed the detrimental impact of cyber harassment on mental health and the need for education around online security.

What does cyberbullying look like?

  • Being sent mean or hurtful text messages from someone you know or even someone you don't know;
  • Getting nasty, threatening or hurtful messages through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, or through sites where people can ask / answer questions like Formspring or Internet forums;
  • People sending photos and videos of you to others to try and embarrass or hurt you;
  • People spreading rumours about you via emails or social networking sites or text messages;
  • People trying to stop you from communicating with others;
  • People stealing your passwords or getting into your accounts and changing the information there;
  • People setting up fake profiles pretending to be you, or posting messages or status updates from your accounts.

Source: AHRC

While the number of incidents in each case may be limited to one or two rare events, it was concerning that the total number of reports had increased, said Melissa Dempsey, Senior Director of Norton's Asia Pacific and Japan arms.

"Online or cyber harassment continues to be a real threat for both young and old," Dempsey said in a statement.

"While the increased number of incidents could be due to people now feeling more confident to speak up, the fact that reports of online bullying and abusive behaviour is on the rise requires immediate action in terms of online users' security and privacy."

Steps You Can Take To Help Combat Online Harassment:

REVIEW your online presence on all devices:

  • Check your security and privacy settings;
  • Regularly change passwords.

RECOGNISE the problem if it happens and move quickly:

  • Do not respond to the perpetrator;
  • Keep all records and evidence of the harassment by making a copy of the message, photo or video;
  • If you are witness to online harassment, help by supporting the person targeted and, depending on the situation, letting the perpetrators know that their behaviour is not acceptable.


  • If someone says or does something that is inappropriate or deemed as harassment, report it to the relevant authorities immediately;
  • If inappropriate content is displayed online, contact the website operators by phone or email, requesting the content be removed or blocked.

Younger Minority Groups Under Threat

"Mild harassment" is most commonly experienced amongst younger Australians with 67 percent reporting abuse and insults.

Being constantly socially connected comes with risks, with the report noting high incidences of abuse could be attributed to young adults' regular use of popular social media profiles such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

Experience of abuse and insults (53 percent) as well as malicious gossip and rumours (43 percent) are now commonplace complaints, the survey of 1,030 adults aged over 18 found.

This kind of "mild harassment" is most commonly experienced amongst younger Australians with 67 percent reporting abuse and insults.

Tech Use Sees Boost In Counselling Services

In April Kids Helpline released a report showing increased use of technology saw a 151 percent increase in WebChat counselling over a five year period, going from 12,643 in 2012 to 31,765 contacts in 2016.

In July last year KHL began gathering data on the prevalence of cyberbullying and other issues in this space.

"From July to December 2016, 1,566 counselling contacts were from children and young people concerned, worried or feeling unsafe as a result of online or texting activity," Ms Adams said in April.

"In addition to bullying, this included participation in sexting, receiving unwanted online contact, suspected grooming and uncontrolled or excessive use of online gaming or social networking."

The 2016 Insights report showed NSW and Victoria as the leading states accessing Kids Helpline services with 35 percent and 25 percent of all contacts coming from these States respectively.

Burrowing down into the Norton findings shows very tough circumstances for certain minority groups

Of those reporting the most common harassment are the physically disabled at (59 percent), the LGBTQ community (66 percent) and those with weight issues (66 percent) or poor mental health (69 percent) more likely to be victims.

Threats Of Violence, Cyberbullying And Cyberstalking Reports On The Rise

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Reports of Cyberbullying and cyberstalking increased significantly from 20 percent to 33 percent and 15 per cent to 29 percent respectively, the survey showed.

Reports of threats of physical violence more than doubled since the last survey up from 16 percent to 35 percent, with younger men and people with minority status being more likely to be targeted.

Cyberbullying and cyberstalking reports also increased significantly from 20 percent to 33 percent and 15 per cent to 29 percent respectively.

Cyberbullying is especially a concern for younger Australians (57 percent), those in the LGBTIQ community (55 percent) and people suffering from poor mental health (48 percent).

When it came to identifying perpetrators of cyberbullying, men were more likely to say their bullies' identities were unknown (39 percent) or total strangers (30 percent). 28 percent of women who had experienced bullying said that they had been bullied by a former friend or an acquaintance.

While young women were only a little more likely to be targeted by sexual harassment than men, the range and variety of sexual abuse they receive is greater.

The Gender Imbalance in Abuse:

  • 48 percent of women compared to 31 percent of men reported said they had people send sexual comments and messages on social media accounts;
  • Requests for sexually explicit photographs/images was significantly higher for women with 44 percent reporting this complaint than men (25 percent);
  • Women also reported more instances of receiving unwanted graphic/sexual pornographic material as well as being pestered for dates by someone who would not take no for an answer.

Alarmingly, 77 percent of men surveyed said that they do not know anyone who has suffered from online harassment, however 70 per cent have experienced it themselves.

This indicates that most men do not share these experiences with their peers, Norton said.

Are you experiencing cyberbullying? Get in touch with the eSafety Commissioner for advice on how to make a complaint, find someone to talk to as well as advice and strategies for dealing with cyberbullying.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.