November 20, 2014

About 1 in 5 victims of online harassment say it happened in the comments section

About 1 in 5 victims of online harassment say it happened in a comments section.The Reuters news service recently joined other media outlets that have closed or restructured their online comments. Popular Science made headlines last year when it shut down comments. The Huffington Post ended anonymous commenting in late 2013, with its editor calling comments sections one of the “darkest places on the internet.” And the Chicago Sun-Times suspended comments in April until a new monitoring system could be developed.

A recent Pew Research Center study found that roughly one-in-five (22%) internet users that have been victims of online harassment reported that their last experience occurred in the comments section of a website. While social media sites (66%) were the most common place noted for harassment, comments sections were named more frequently than online gaming sites (16%) and discussion sites like reddit (10%).

When internet users who witnessed online harassment were asked to describe the last incident they observed, general online comments or comments sections were mentioned in 8% of responses. That equals the percentage of responses (8%) that specifically cited comments sections of news sites, blogs or articles. Websites for news organizations were often described as particularly contentious. One respondent said, “Comment sections of news articles often contain some very racist, homophobic, sexist language.” Another noted that, on news sites, “people are brutal and seem to feel way too comfortable in their anonymity.”

Although most witnesses did not describe a specific online environment, social media sites were the most named digital space with 15%. There were fewer responses about witnessing harassment on gaming sites (1%) and over email (1%).

Topics: Internet Activities, News Media Ethics and Practices, Online Communities

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.

2 Comments

  1. j__m2 years ago

    this poll and the responses to it are completely brain-dead. online harassment is enabled by online communication. the data does not show that there’s anything special about comment pages in that regard. such communication channels are important, despite the potential for abuse.

    kudos to those who are developing new tools to protect users. big raspberries to everyone who’s decided to shut down discussion altogether.

  2. Lois2 years ago

    I agree with Huffington Post that comments sections are “one of the darkest places on the internet.” I feel that everyone is entitled to their opinion and free to express their beliefs, but many people think that a right to free speech means that they can say anything they want without any consequences. The negativity, rage, condescension and self-righteousness leads to just one stupid, trite argument after another, with little meaningful exchange ever taking place. I always feel a little sick inside after reading comments in just about any forum.