Anonymity can play a central role in fostering abusive behavior online. But in many cases, targets of online harassment name someone they know personally as the responsible party.
About one-in-four Americans (26%) who have been harassed online say an acquaintance was behind their most recent incident, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. And in other cases, targets of online abuse are even more familiar with their harassers: 18% of those who have been harassed say their most recent incident involved a friend, while 11% say it involved a family member. Smaller shares say their most recent experience involved a former romantic partner (7%) or a co-worker (5%).
Taken together, nearly half of Americans (46%) who have experienced some form of online harassment say they know the person or persons responsible for their most recent incident – the same as the share (46%) who say their harasser was a stranger or someone whose real identity was unknown to them. (The remaining 8% were harassed by people both known and unknown to them.)
There is a rising tide of bullying in the workplace. Bullying has moved from the playground to the workplace, a childhood behavior carried over by bullies who never learned to mend their ways. 85% of employees have been bullied, and their stories are shocking. It is a problem, if not epidemic.
Although bullying seems to affect more women than men, it is not a gender issue; it is a power issue. Eighty percent of the bullying is done by people who have a position of power over other people.
Institutionalized bullying can bring down an organization by causing morale to plummet along with productivity. A bullied employee could suffer harmful health effects or even decide to leave, forcing the company to invest time and money in a replacement.
While bullying may be present in the workplace, the topic is still largely taboo. Many employees who are being bullied feel powerless to do anything about it. They may not even recognize the behavior as bullying, passing it off as workplace teasing. That’s why human resources must come up with a checklist to help identify and categorize bullying.
The first criterion is whether there is a target involved. Is one person repeatedly receiving negative attention from a bully? Is the interaction demeaning enough that the person starts to doubt his or her abilities? Is it affecting the work product?
Moreover, the other aspect of that is what kind of bullying is being done. In some cases, it’s more introverted and not seen. In some cases, it’s more observable. Bullying in the workplace begets more bullying. In other words, it is a behavior that can pervade a culture if it isn’t curtailed.
Just think of the target waking up in the morning and getting ready to go to work and not wanting to do that because they know they’re going to get bullied once again. The job becomes the loneliest place in the world.
A culture of bullying often begins at the top with managers, and then the behavior is copied by subordinates. People see it as a way to move up, especially if their boss is like that. They emulate that once they get into a managerial position, unfortunately. And you know, they’re removed from really being recognized for that because of the subtlety of some of the bullying.
Before going to human resources with a complaint about bullying, employees should keep a record of the incidents. Concrete examples of five to ten incidents that directly affected your ability to do your job is enough proof for critical mass.
Then you need to figure out whom to talk to about the problem. The first question you’re going to be asked is, ‘What happened?’ Demonstrate to me, if I’m HR or a boss or whomever in the organization, that this is true, that this has actually occurred. Even then it’s tricky. There’s not necessarily a safe place to go and vet this kind of thing.
Companies can combat workplace bullying by developing a policy against it. With a policy in place that every employee agrees to, expectations are clear and communicated. And managers need to enforce it.
The bottom line is the manager has to call it as it happens, stop it in its tracks, know what it looks like, make sure it doesn’t occur again and take the bully out for either counseling or coaching or some form of intervention, and help the person who’s being bullied as well. But the manager needs to catch it, so it’s a very big responsibility.
The severity of harassment people encounter varies little by whether or not they know their harasser. But there are some distinct differences in how these two groups react to their experiences.
Those who know their harasser tend to be more deeply affected by their experience and to express greater concerns for their safety. Among those harassed online by someone they know, 34% describe their most recent incident as extremely or very upsetting – twice the share among those who say their harasser was unknown to them (17%). Additionally, people harassed online by someone they know are roughly three times as likely to say they felt a threat of physical danger to themselves or people close to them during their most recent incident (17% vs. 5%).
Those who know their harasser are also more likely to say the incident caused a range of problems, including difficulties with friends or family, damage to their reputation, mental or emotional stress or problems in their romantic relationships.
A majority of both groups say they simply ignored their most recent incident of online abuse. But slightly larger shares of those who are familiar rather than unfamiliar with their harasser say they did respond in some way (45% vs. 34%). Among people who chose to respond, those who were harassed by someone known to them were especially likely to say they confronted the person face-to-face or over the phone (28% vs. 1% among those who did not know their harasser), changed their username or deleted an online profile (15% vs. 3%), or stopped going to offline events or places (11% vs. 3%).
Those who have been harassed by someone they know are also more likely to turn to others for support: 55% sought out some type of help or support during their most recent indident, compared with 31% of those who were harassed by a stranger or somone anonymous. This group is especially likely to turn to other friends or family members for support: 39% did so after their most recent encounter, compared with 16% of those whose harasser was unknown to them.