US & Canada

Canadians want more done to curb abuse on social media

16-year-old girl who has been upset by an insulting text message Image copyright AJ PHOTO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image caption Younger users are more likely to report being harassed on social media

Canadians who have been harassed online are also much more likely to take a live-and-let-live attitude towards abusive behaviour on social media.

A new poll indicates significant splits in gender and age when it comes to where Canadians draw the line at offensive behaviour.

Heavy social media users tend to be less shocked by online abuse. So do younger users and younger men.

Tech companies are under growing pressure to tackle online bullying.

In May, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey told the BBC that addressing abuse on the platform was a priority.

A new survey by the Angus Reid Institute looks into Canadian attitudes towards social media misbehaviour.

It found that one in four Canadians reported being subjected to behaviour ranging from the mean to the extreme - from unwelcome comments to violent threats and sexual harassment.

Among younger, heavy social media users, 50% reported being harassed. Almost 60% of LGBT users said they had experienced some form of online abuse.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Heavy social media users were also more likely to report online abuse

That left many respondents calling on the companies to do more to curb abusive or bullying behaviour, including 49% who said they wanted to see the platforms proactively seek out and remove offensive material.

"Canadians do seem to have an expectations of social media companies they're not feeling is being met," said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, a Canadian not-for-profit research and polling organisation.

But she also noted there was a "diversity of views" on just how far social media companies should go to police content - and just what was considered acceptable.

The Institute showed respondents five examples of online interactions, ranging from an angry tweet directed towards a journalist to a racist tweet sent to Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Leslie Jones has been the target of online harassment

Respondents who had been personally harassed online had a higher bar for what they found unacceptable compared to other users.

"People who do say, 'Yes, it's happened to me' are more likely to also say 'this is okay,'" said Ms Kurl.

"There is almost a sense [that] exposure can numb shock or outrage, a sense of inappropriateness."

Despite men reporting being targeted just as often as women, young Canadian men were most likely to take a laissez-faire approach to online harrassment.

"There are some stark differences, no doubt about it," said Ms Kurl.

"You see a pretty big difference on age, full stop. And then when you look at what younger men think is OK versus what younger women think is OK, again there's some big differences. Both age and gender are drivers."

Self-censorship

Elizabeth Dubois, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who researches online harassment, said abuse and misbehaviour has always been part of social media culture.

But it has become more of a concern as the use of social networks becomes more mainstream.

"You get to the point where the largest growth in social media - Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram - has been older people, boomers," said Ms Dubois.

"The alarm has been sounded by them."

Online harassment has also become more prevalent throughout the web, she said.

It makes the people she researches - journalists and public figures - more cautious about what they post online.

"They're rethinking what they post, rewording their comments, selectively using or not using hashtags," she said.

Ms Kurl said it is also having a chilling effect on average users.

"Basically three in five social media users say they often or at least sometimes self-censor," she said.

"If people are worried about saying what they really think or really feel for fear of trolls or harassment, it does lead to questions of how reflective of public opinion or social trends are these platforms."

The Angus Reid Institute conducted the online survey from 29 August to 2 September among a representative randomized sample of 1,530 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum.

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