October 21, 2016 11:36 pm
Updated: October 21, 2016 11:49 pm

Almost half of young Canadians have been harassed on social media, reports poll

Online "trolling" has never been more of a problem than it is now. Jennifer Palma reports on how widespread it's become, and how to protect yourself.

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There’s a reason that videos like Jimmy Kimmel’s “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” might be so popular: the shared experience of being harassed on social media.

Now, it turns out the modern phenomenon is much more common than you may have thought. According to an Angus Reid poll, one quarter of Canadians say they’ve experienced harassment or abuse while on social media.

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While some recent stories make it seem like Canadians are usually polite online, the issue of online trolls is a growing problem, especially among young people.

READ MORE: Polite Canadian tweets (almost) break the internet

Just about all young adults in Canada use social media (98 per cent between ages 18 and 34), with Facebook being the most heavily used platform. But the people who report being harassed online are more commonly members of a visible minority (38 per cent) or the LGBTQ community (58 per cent), according to the survey.

Of course, some types of abuse are more serious than others. The survey reported eight identified types of harassment ranging from being called offensive names to being physically threatened or sexually harassed.

Image: Angus Reid

Angus Reid

While the poll reports the rates of abuse between men and women are roughly equal, more women said they have been sexually harassed, stalked and had strangers make unwelcome comments on their appearance online.

And what happens online doesn’t always stay online. A quarter of people in the poll reported their online harassment had real world effects, with some as severe as forcing them to change schools or find a new job.

More commonly, it has caused people to censor themselves because of the potential backlash a post might create.

 

Image: Angus Reid

Angus Reid

Image: Angus Reid

Angus Reid

Dr. Jotie Samra, clinical psychologist at Mainland Medical Clinic, says the effects of harassment can range from mild to tragic.

“On the mild end, people might feel offended, or upset, or hurt,” Samra said.

Feelings can worsen when someone’s vulnerabilities are targeted, such as their opinion, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Samra says this is when someone might lose confidence or self esteem.

But it doesn’t stop there.

“On the extreme end, people that end up being victims of ongoing harassment and bullying can have the most tragic outcomes, which is death by suicide.”

B.C.’s Amanda Todd has been a heartbreaking reminder of the worst consequences of online bullying. The 15-year-old girl committed suicide in 2012 after being continuously shamed, bullied, and threatened online by her peers and strangers.

Samra says the people who turn into online bullies or trolls are typically people with some signs of personality disorders.

“You get this combination of people who don’t feel much, actually want to inflict harm on people, and feel good about it.”

The best way to avoid being a victim of social media harassment is to stop the abuse before it escalates. Samra suggests people who sense someone is trying to attack them should disengage, cut off all ties, and block the person if possible.

In a sense, it’s about refusing to feed the trolls.

CKNW hosts Lynda Steele and Drex are no strangers to trolling.

“I got an email yesterday saying I am a biased prick, and then they had some very choice words to say about Hillary Clinton. I get eight or nine of these on a daily basis. They’re very annoying and they affect you a little bit,” said Drex.

“Sometimes it hurts my feelings. Drex is much better at separating and telling them to you-know-off,” said Steele.

But Drex and Steele say their policy is to try to kill them with kindness.

“We’ve actually turned some trolls around to becoming huge fans of the show,” added Drex.

However, many think it should be up to the social media platform to monitor harassment and make sure it’s not going too far.

The problem is, over half of Canadians believe those companies aren’t doing enough to stop it, according to the survey.

Image: Angus Reid

Angus Reid

And they’re not alone. Twitter’s reputation for dealing with online harassment is so poorly regarded it even turned off potential buyers Disney and Salesforce, according to Bloomberg.

Many other social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have features where users can report offensive content or abuse. On Twitter, users are able to block or report other users, but when mob mentality comes into play that feature is not always effective.

Sometimes the only way to beat the abuse is to leave the platform all together. That was the case for several big-name celebrities, such as Stephen Fry, Iggy Azalea and Leslie Jones, who left after experiencing torrents of hate.

A Buzzfeed Canada writer, Scaachi Koul, also shut down her Twitter after she received backlash from so-called men’s rights activists when she tweeted she was looking for freelance writers who were “not white and not male.”

As for the trolls on Twitter and other social media platforms, their actions often come without consequences.

The Angus Reid survey reports that two-thirds of Canadians think that offenders should be given a warning and banned if they post offensive content a second time. A quarter of respondents said those people should be banned immediately.

Those feelings differ among men and women. Men in the poll said they’d prefer a more laissez-faire approach, while women said they’d choose a more controlled atmosphere.

Fifty-five per cent of men aged 18 to 34 said they think social media companies should treat their platforms like a public park, where people may say anything they want and are only removed if they break the law.

Conversely, 63 per cent of women thought the opposite – that the space should be more like a restaurant, where people who offend other guests may be kicked out even if they haven’t broken the law.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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