Men as Likely To Be Harassed Online as Women

New study says men are more concerned about free speech and for women it's safety concerning the internet.


A new study released by the Pew Research Center supports what some of us have argued all along about online harassment: that it affects men as much as women and that the problem should not be framed as a gender issue—or defined so broadly as to chill legitimate criticism.

If anything, the study says, men tend to get more online abuse than women, including serious abuse such as physical threats (though women are, predictably, more likely to be sexually harassed). However, when people are asked about free speech vs. safety on the internet, women are more likely to come down on the side of the latter. Thus, it is very likely future efforts at speech regulation will continue to be cast as "feminist" initiatives.

Online harassment has become something of a cause célèbre in the last three years. It has been explored (and deplored) in numerous media reports; it has attracted the attention of politicians and even of the United Nations.

A basic premise of these discussions has been that women, especially outspoken women, are specifically and maliciously targeted for hate, abuse, and threats; many feminists have claimed internet misogyny is the civil rights issue of our time.

The Pew survey of over 4,000 American internet users over 18 conducted in January challenges those contentions. Forty four percent of the men and 37 percent of the women said that at some point, they had experienced at least one of the behaviors the study classified as harassment.

Most of this abuse involved offensive name-calling and being embarrassed on purpose. However, 12 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they'd been the target of a physical threat; 6 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they had been stalked; 8 percent of men and 7 percent of women they had experienced "sustained harassment"; and 4 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they had been sexually harassed.

Men and women under 30, who are the most likely to spend a lot of time online, are, unsurprisingly, the most likely to experience all kinds of online abuse, including its more severe forms.

It's true that women who been targets of online abuse were more than twice as likely as men to describe their last such experience as extremely or very upsetting (35 percent vs. 16 percent). But, interestingly, there was no gender gap in actual negative effects of online harassment, be it mental stress, problems with friends and family, romantic problems, reputational damage, or trouble at work. Twelve percent of both male and female victims—or about 5 percent of all respondents—said that online harassment had made them fear for their or their loved ones' safety. One percent, with no gender difference, had been victims of doxing—the unwanted disclosure of their personal data online, ranging from real names for those who post under pseudonyms to place of work or home address.

Few will be surprised to learn that women under 30 were substantially more likely than their male peers—53 percent vs. 37 percent—to report receiving unsolicited sexually explicit images. But in a more counterintuitive finding, men in that age group were more likely than women—14 percent vs. 10 percent—to say that explicit images of them had been shared online without their consent. (For those 30 and older, the figure was 5 percent for both sexes.)

This differs sharply from feminist scholars' claims that 90 percent of so-called "revenge porn" targets women, a figure based on a self-selected and mostly female sample. But it supports a 2013 study by McAfee Security in which men were more likely to report both being threatened with having intimate photos of them posted online and actually having such photos posted.

More women than men in the Pew Study, 11 percent vs. 5 percent, said they had experienced gender-based abuse online. But this gap may be partly due to differences in what men and women perceive as gender-based. A woman who is called fat and ugly on Twitter is likely to see the insult as sexist; a man who has a similar comment slung at him will likely see it simply as a personal insult.

And all the dramatic claims about the terrible hardship of being a woman on the internet with an opinion? Entirely wrong: men in the Pew survey were almost twice as likely as women (19 percent vs. 10 percent) to say they had been harassed online due to their political opinions. Part of the disparity is no doubt due to the fact that men are more likely to talk politics on the internet; in one recent study, 60 to 65 percent of Twitter users tweeting on political topics were men. But it certainly doesn't sound like men who talk politics have it any easier.

There is really no way to massage the Pew data to fit the women-as-victim narrative—but some tried. Gizmodo's Bryan Menegus simply misstated the findings, asserting that although men are targeted more overall, "women—especially young women—make up an outsized proportion of users who experience the most severe forms of harassment, like stalking and threats." Vox's Aja Romano wrote that "more severe harassment disproportionately affects younger internet users, women, and people of color."

But the dishonest reporting prize goes to Slate's Christina Cauterucci, who cherry-picked the few numbers showing worse harassment of women, ignored the ones showing equal or worse abuse of men, and finished by upbraiding males for not taking online harassment seriously. Headline: "Four in 10 People Get Harassed Online But Young Men Don't Think It's a Big Deal, Says New Survey."

As bad as it is, Cauterucci's article highlights the survey's real gender split on the issue of safety vs. freedom online. Asked whether offensive online content is taken too seriously or too often excused, women are evenly split; men come down, nearly 2:1, for "taken too seriously." Among women under 30, a small majority (54 percent) agree that offensives online content is taken too seriously; but three-quarters of young men agree.

The divide was even sharper on the question of whether it's more important for people to be able to "speak their minds freely" or "feel welcome and safe" online: 56 percent of men opted for more freedom, two-thirds of women for more safety. (Interestingly, despite millennials' reputation for wanting safe spaces, young adults of both sexes were more pro-free speech than their elders—but the gender gap was still large: speaking freely was a higher priority for nearly two-thirds of men under 30 and only four out of ten women.)

Before anyone rushes to declare women enemies of freedom, it should be noted that the sexes actually don't differ all that much in their view of what should be done about online harassment. Only slightly more women than men (35 percent vs. 29 percent) say that elected officials have a major role to play in combating it; while women are more likely than men to see a major role for law enforcement (54 vs. 43 percent), the age gap on this issue is far larger (58 percent of seniors vs. 37 percent of young adults).

Meanwhile, there is a broad consensus that social media platforms and other online services have a responsibility to stop harassing behavior by users: 82 percent of women and 75 percent of men agree. Clearly, both men and women believe that some curbs are necessary, but they tend to want the lines drawn in different places. It is also likely that women's views of the issue are influenced by the false perception that women are singled out for constant and vicious abuse on the internet.

The Pew report points out that online harassment is, to a large extent, a subjective concept. Even something as ostensibly straightforward as a physical threat can be a matter of interpretation: Is "I hope you get cancer" a threat? How about "Kill yourself"? The definition of sexual harassment is even blurrier: "Wow, you look hot" in response to a photo posted to Twitter or Facebook could be sexual harassment to an overzealous feminist but a perfectly acceptable compliment to someone else.

The Pew survey shows that a small number of people experience internet abuse severe enough to cause serious negative consequences, including problems at work (3 percent of all users and 7 percent of young adults), financial loss (2 percent), and trouble getting a job or housing (1 percent each). It's also troubling that more than one in ten internet users have feared for their safety due to online harassment, even if it's hard to tell how often those fears were based on a serious threat.

Is there a need for better law enforcement responses when online harassment escalates to the point of causing real harm or credible fear of harm? Probably. And, of course, service providers have every right to curb behavior that is not illegal but causes persistent aggravation to other users and even drives them away from online platforms.

Unfortunately, the social media's attempts to police harassment have been plagued by accusations of left-wing bias and political favoritism. And some feminists and other progressives have a disturbing tendency to equate criticism with abuse.

Just recently, culture and videogame critic Anita Sarkeesian, one of the most high-profile targets of online harassment, called YouTuber Carl Benjamin—a.k.a. "Sargon of Akkad"—"one of [her] biggest harassers." Yet Benjamin's videos critiquing her are well within the bounds of polemics; indeed, he has voiced support for the suspension of Twitter accounts that engage in harassment, though also suggesting that Sarkeesian is not particularly bothered by it. (Despite numerous accusations of harassment, the "Sargon of Akkad" account remains in good standing with YouTube; Patreon, the popular crowdfunding platform, also recently said that he was not in violation of its rules of conduct.)

There is no doubt that severe harassment can chill speech and debate on the internet. But accusations of harassment can also easily turn into a weapon for silencing and punishing legitimate speech that someone finds undesirable.

Efforts to find the right balance are not helped by peddling a false women-in-jeopardy narrative. It would be a good idea to remind everyone, including women, that annoying words on the internet can nearly always be safely ignored.

Ladies, woman up.

NEXT: Brickbat: Sing a Sad Song

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  1. Y'all Reasonoids have ***NOT*** recently, all in unison, chanted or even written-and-endorsed, "That SQRLSY One, He's a GREAT writer; one of the most astute observers of culture and politics EVAH!!!"

    I for one consider that to be on-line harassment of the most SEVERE order!!!!

    1. Bitch ima kill you

      1. If you kill me I will be sure to hit the "report spam" button! Profoundly Hihnister revenge will be mine! So there!

        1. what you americans don't understand is assault weapons and hate speech must be banned for good of us all in my country they are both illegal and we don't have these problems!!!!11!!!eleventy!!!!!1!

          (Those comments are fun to read with the generic Nazi accent from a bad movie. Vee have vays of macking you tock!)

          1. While men seem to be less concerned with harassment than women, all of us can agree that unwanted electronic "parody" and the like has no place in our great nation. Surely no one here would dare to defend the "First Amendment dissent" of a single, isolated judge in America's leading criminal "satire" case? See the documentation at:


    2. I hope you fuckin' get Lou Gehrig's disease.

      1. Sticks and stones bitches. What pussies people are. And I mean that in any way one wants to read it.

        The only answer to this is to regulate the internet so shut the fuck up instead.

  2. >>>Internet abusers specifically targeting women

    jeebus fucking petes don't ruin the internets too...lighten the fuck up.

    words. cannot. be. controlled.

  3. Everybody knows that women are too stupid to even participate in the kind of intense internet debates that lead to online abuse.

    /ducks and runs in a serpentine pattern

    1. Maybe I should experimentally change my online handle to Leslie224 and see if the reaction to comments changes. So far it's been reasonable. I happen to like sarcasm.

      1. fuck you, Leslie224.

      2. Those sandwiches aren't going to make themselves.

      3. TITS or GTFO!

        1. *flashes glorious man-boobs*

          They're real, and they're spectacular.

  4. This thread was guaranteed to be hinhfected.

    1. I just report him as spam. It's true, because he is spamming, by defintion.

  5. The internet is the real world. If you spout the "wrong" politics or wear the "wrong" t-shirt in certain venues, bars, neighborhoods, etc. There are going to be assholes that confront you. No reason to believe that would be any different on certain websites and I think we expect it to be worse because of the anonymity.

  6. There is really no way to massage the Pew data to fit the women-as-victim narrative?but some tried.

    *rolls eyes* Of course they did, there's a narrative to promote.

  7. As a personal anecdote describing my own internet experiences. When I was 16 I used the words 'Nigger" and "faggot" a lot in very crude and mean ways on World of Warcraft. Trolling passed with age.

    Different point in the same vein; a few months back I had a very favorable commentary towards new Reason writer Christian Britschgi -- but that was because I read the name as "Christina" once I realized my mistake all positive feeling reverted to neutrality towards Mr. Britschgi.

    You can take the above as an example of "men are dogs" or an example of "men actually want to be nice to women" for obvious reasons online or offline.

    1. that's because you thought you had a chance, right? Admit it, guys think highly of a female because they think that they just might possibly have a chance.

      1. Actually no, I just interact differently with men and women. It's not about getting laid, I do love a flirty atmosphere without needing it to have any real chance of becoming more. I recognize in myself that I am more patient and considerate with women. Condescending chivalry or my pops raising me to never cuss around girls? A bit of both no doubt. Take it for what it's worth (not much) but it's true of my own experiences.

        As the ancient precept instructs -- "Know thyself".

  8. It's funny, I scrolled through the comments really fast, saw a bunch of bolding in the middle and thought "Oh great, I bet this thread has been Hihnfected."

    Turns out I was right.

  9. All I know is chicks suck at logic and videogames.

    1. And math. And fixing cars.

  10. Looks like whiny bitches need to learn how to man up.

  11. We know that there is power in victimhood. Why do these researchers who of course are men have to rob women of their power? I think we all know the answer.

  12. Headline: "Four in 10 People Get Harassed Online But Young Men Don't Think It's a Big Deal, Says New Survey."

    There's an actual lesson there in your twisted facts, stupid.

  13. Anti-Russian propaganda imo.

    1. Is that a micro-aggression against Russians or anti-Russians?

  14. These comments are exactly as annoying as I was expecting. Loved the article though, especially the last 2 paragraphs.

  15. Feminists who distort the facts on harassment, etc. = liberals.
    Liberals = Democrats.
    Democrats = this:

    "Republicans don't have near as big a woman problem as Democrats have a man problem." -Wall Street Journal

    And this:

    "The whole Democratic Party is now a smoking pile of rubble: In state government things are worse, if anything. The GOP now controls a historical record number of governors' mansions, including a majority of New England governorships. Tuesday's election swapped around a few state legislative houses but left Democrats controlling a distinct minority. The same story applies further down ballot, where most elected attorneys general, insurance commissioners, secretaries of state, and so forth are Republicans."

    And this:

    "The Democratic Party is viewed as more out of touch than either Trump or the party's political opponents. Two-thirds of Americans think the Democrats are out of touch ? including nearly half of Democrats themselves. ...a large chunk of Democrats feel that their party is united in a vision ? that's at odds with the concerns of the American public." -Washington Post

  16. Everybody knows that sitting quietly in the front row of a panel and politely listening is targeted horsemint, but yelling like a crazy bag lady at that person and calling him a "garbage human" isn't. Duh.

    Also, if you've been following the Alex Mauer DMCA rampage and related hijinx, now the usual clickbait sites are pushing the horsemint narrative about that too.

  17. Truly sad... Unfortunately, these are just the norms of today...

    "But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, 3 having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, 4 betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, 5 having an appearance of godliness but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. 13 But wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled."
    (2 Timothy 3:1-5; 13)

    The Good News is:

    "When the wicked sprout like weeds And all the wrongdoers flourish, It is that they may be annihilated forever." (Psalms 92:7)

    -According to Chronology, the Bible is 3,500 years old, & if you doubt this, go to a *Museum not the Internet. The Bible has been translated into about 2,600 languages, and billions of copies printed & distribute. More than 90 percent of the people in the world can read the Bible in their own language. And each week, more than a million people get a Bible! Yes, there is no other book like the Bible. Have a Bible question?

  18. So is the article only using 'men' and 'women' in a sentence containing the word 'gender' harassment?
    If so, to which sex?
    If not, why not?

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  20. Wow, so be it. Once upon a time, dinosaurs roam the earth. lol

  21. two-thirds of women for more safety.

    Right, because people are so much safer under governments that suppress speech.


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