The internet and digital tools play an increasingly central role in how Americans engage with their communities: How they find and share information; how they connect with their friends, family, and professional networks; how they entertain themselves; how they seek answers to sensitive questions; how they learn about—and access—the world around them. The internet is built on the ideal of the free flow of information, but it is also built on the ideal of free-flowing discourse.
However, one persistent challenge to this ideal has been online harassment and abuse—unwanted contact that is used to create an intimidating, annoying, frightening, or even hostile environment for the victim and that uses digital means to reach the victim. As with their traditional expressions, online harassment and abuse can affect many aspects of our digital lives. Even those who do not experience online harassment directly can see it and respond to its effects; even the threat of harassment can suppress the voices of many of our citizens.
In order to explore these issues and the ways that online environments affect our experiences online, this report examines American teens’ and adults’ experiences with witnessing, experiencing, and responding to the aftermath of online harassment and abuse.
This report was made possible by a grant from the Digital Trust Foundation. The authors would like to thank the Foundation for their support of this project. In addition to the named authors, we want to acknowledge and thank the other individuals who contributed to this report: Hannah Madison, Emilie Chen, Chantel Gammage, Alexandra Mateescu, Angie Waller, Seth Young, and Shana Kimball. We would also like to thank our advisors and reviewers for their help in thinking through the questions to ask and their feedback on the report. Our advisors and reviewers include danah boyd, Monica Bulger, Maeve Duggan, Rachel Hartman, Amanda Levendowski, and the team at the Safety Net Technology Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.