You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

For Women, The Internet Can Be a Scary Place

Christopher Polk/ Getty Images

Even though there is no shortage of examples of harassment online, a Pew Survey published this week is the first of its kind to drill down into the level and types of online harassment. The report, which polled almost 3,000 Internet users, makes clear that women for the most part have it worse off than men. But according to the study, most people don't realize that. 

True, men more commonly report they experience harassment on the Internet (44 percent of men compared to 37 percent of women). But among those who have faced harassment, more women have been targeted on social media sites—that's 73 percent of women who have faced harassment compared to 59 percent of men—while the reverse is true for online gaming and comments sections. Women also tend to face the most severe types of harassment, like stalking and sexual harassment, while men generally face milder issues like name-calling and public embarrassment. Young women are the most likely to experience this severe targeting, with a quarter of women between the ages of 18 and 24 reporting having been stalked or sexually harassed online. 


The disconnect is in how people view hostility towards men and women. Pew found that over three-quarters of respondents view most online platforms—like social networking sites, comment sections, and discussion boards—as equally welcoming to both men and women. Eighteen percent even thought social networking sites were more welcoming to women than to men; only 5 percent of respondents thought the opposite. The big exception is in the gaming community, where a full 44 percent think gaming is friendlier to men. But recent events suggest that number should be even higher: In the last two weeks, female media critics have faced some of the most severe forms of harassment from the gaming community. Video game critic and writer Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a speech because of a shooting threat; when actress Felicia Day spoke out about misogyny in the gaming community, her private information and home address were exposed online.

According to Pew, the most common way people respond to online harassment is to ignore it. When it's just name-calling, ignoring harassment is easy to do. Responding to the more serious threats isn't so simple.