Norton by Symantec released new research that reveals 8 out of 10 people surveyed have experienced some form of online harassment in India, with the most common forms of online harassment being abuse and insults (63 per cent) and malicious gossip and rumours (59 per cent).
The Norton study aims to understand the country’s exposure to online harassment ranging from unwanted conflict, trolling, character assassinations, and cyberbullying to sexual harassment and threats of physical violence, as well as the impacts of these experiences.
Incidence of online harassment was particularly high for people in the under 40s age group, with 65 per cent reporting online abuse and insults. Frighteningly, 87 per cent of people with disabilities or poor mental health and 77 per cent of those with weight issues reported experiences of abuse or insults online.
Ritesh Chopra, Country Manager, Norton by Symantec said that the level of online harassment in India was extremely concerning.
“Our latest research shows that more serious forms of online harassment including threats of physical violence (45 per cent), cyberbullying (44 per cent) and cyberstalking (45 per cent) are very high,” RiteshRites said.
“It is also worrying that for over 40 per cent of incidences of cyber bullying and nearly half of all cases of cyber stalking people said that the perpetrator was a stranger. Indeed, many said that they had no idea of the true identity of the person who was bullying them.”
“With India’s growing population spending more time on social media platforms and mobile applications, it is important that online users’ take basic precautions to protect their safety and security to avoid unwanted contact,” added Ritesh.
Experiences of online harassment
While the survey shows that men and women reported similar experiences of online harassment it was apparent that men under 40 and people with disabilities and poor mental health were more susceptible to some of the more serious threats. A staggering 49 per cent of men and 71 per cent of people with disabilities or poor mental health reported receiving threats of physical violence, while 50 per cent of men and 67 per cent of people with disabilities or poor mental health reported at least one incidence of cyberbullying.
By region, the highest threats of physical violence were reported by victims from Mumbai (51 per cent), Delhi (47 per cent) and Hyderabad (46 per cent) with Delhi victims (51 per cent) experiencing the highest incidence of cyberbullying.
Sexual harassment was also a concern for the under 40s, experienced by 40 per cent of this age group. It is more commonly encountered by women than men but those who were most likely to report this form of harassment were people who had disabilities or mental health issues, with 69 per cent reporting being victim to this kind of abuse. Being sent sexual comments and messages on social media as well as receiving disturbing emails were the most common complaints.
Reports of sexual harassment were highest by victims from Delhi and Mumbai (43 per cent) followed by Kolkata (37 per cent) and Bangalore (36 per cent).
Impacts of online harassment
Online harassment often triggered emotional reactions with 45 per cent of people saying it made them feel angry, 41 per cent irritated and 36 per cent frustrated. Worryingly, one in four women found their experience frightening.
Online harassment also had a real impact on people’s lives, with 33 per cent enhancing their privacy settings on social media, 28 per cent reporting that is had impacted their work and studies, 27 per cent experienced an impact on the nature of their relationships with friends, 26 percent becoming depressed or anxious and 24 per cent losing friends.
Boosting online protection
“These statistics indicate the real need for people to take the necessary precautions to boost their online protection,” Ritesh said.
“At Norton, our mission to help protect consumers’ digital safety and help people feel inspired to be confident online users, secure in the knowledge that they are safe from harm. We want to do our part to prevent abuse and harassment by calling on online service providers to be ethical corporate citizens by setting clear community conduct and service standards, and being prepared to enforce them against those whose behavior violates these standards,” Ritesh concluded.
Norton has identified three steps people should take to help combat online harassment:
REVIEW your online presence on all devices:
Check your security and privacy settings.
Regularly change passwords.
RECOGNISE the problem if it happens and move quickly:
Do not respond to the perpetrator.
Keep all records and evidence of the harassment by making a copy of the message, photo or video.
If you are witness to online harassment, help by supporting the person targeted and, depending on the situation, letting the perpetrators know that their behaviour is not acceptable.
If someone says or does something that is inappropriate or deemed as harassment, report it to the relevant authorities immediately.
If inappropriate content is displayed online, contact the website operators by phone or email, requesting the content be removed or blocked.