Pew report: 88% of teens have witnessed online cruelty

Faith Merino · November 9, 2011 · Short URL:

Report finds teens more likely to say cruelty is prevalent online than adults

I defy anyone to say in all sincerity that they’ve never engaged in Facebook drama.  You know as well as I do that you’ve posted a passive-aggressive status update to send a “message” to one of your Facebook friends (i.e., “I really hate when people think it’s okay to come to show up at my house uninvited and eat the last of my Cheez-Its without asking”). 

A new report released Wednesday morning by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project took a hard look at cyber drama—specifically online cruelty and cyber bullying—and turned up some interesting results: while teens and adults are about as likely to say they’ve experienced meanness or cruelty online, teens are nearly twice as likely as adults to say that meanness or cruelty is prevalent on social networking sites.

 In a survey of nearly 800 teens and their parents or guardians, Pew researchers found that 15% of teens said they’ve been the target of cruelty on a social networking site.  Interestingly, the number wasn’t that different for adults, 13% of whom said they’ve been the target of cruelty online. 

But when it comes to their perception of social networking sites, more than 30% said that their peers are mostly unkind online, or that “it depends,” compared to 5% of adults who said their peers are mostly unkind online.

Interestingly, while only 15% of teens said they’ve been the target of cyber meanness, a whopping 88% said they’ve seen someone be mean or cruel to someone else on a social networking site.  Some 12% said they see it happen frequently, while 29% said they see it sometimes, and 47% said they only see it “once in a while.”  By comparison, only 69% of adult respondents said they’ve witnessed cruelty online, with only 7% saying they see it frequently.

Of the teens surveyed, 25% said they’ve had an experience on a social networking site that later resulted in a face-to-face confrontation (totally missing the point of the passive-aggressive status update), 22% had an experience that ended a friendship with someone, 13% said they’ve felt nervous about going to school the next day, and 8% said they’ve gotten into a physical altercation with someone over something that happened on a social networking site.

Pew researchers found no statistically significant difference when it came to reports of online cruelty among teens of different age groups, socio-economic status, gender, or race. In other words, teens were equally likely to say they’ve witnessed or experienced online cruelty regardless of their age, race, gender, or socio-economic status.

“Social networking sites have created new spaces for teens to interact and they witness a mixture of altruism and cruelty on those sites,” said the report’s lead author Amanda Lenhart, in a statement. “For most teens, these are exciting and rewarding spaces. But the majority have also seen a darker side. And for a subset of teens, the world of social media isn’t a pretty place because it presents a climate of drama and mean behavior.”

But parents and teachers still have a meaningful impact on the lives of teens.  When it came to getting advice and help regarding online bullying, 86% of teens said they’ve gotten advice from their parents and 70% said they’ve received advice from teachers.  Some 58% of teens said their parents have been the biggest influence on what they think is appropriate or inappropriate online. 


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