News / Vancouver

60% of Canadians ‘muted’ online by cyberbullying, trolls

Self-censorship. Stalking. Threats. Impacts of social media harassment increasingly felt offline, a new poll shows.

Stone Trolls from the film, the Hobbit

Courtesy: The Hobbit

Stone Trolls from the film, the Hobbit

A disturbing one-third of Canadians who use social media have been harassed or bullied online, according to a new poll — and for a quarter of them, the effects are being downloaded into their ‘real lives.’

With just 11 per cent of the country not yet on Facebook, Twitter or other networks, an increasing number of people are finding themselves essentially silenced by the trolls, the Angus Reid Institute study found.

“It certainly mutes voices that might otherwise be heard,” explained the non-profit polling organization’s executive director, Shachi Kurl, in a phone interview. “Six-in-10 people on social media say they’re not going to share things, deleting a tweet, removing a picture, or deciding to not post something because they want to avoid unwelcome responses.

“They’re self-censoring because they’re worried about what the backlash could be, particularly from trolls.”

This year, Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones was forced to leave Twitter after being hounded by thousands of trolls online waging a relentless online attack on the Black actor.

In Canada, elected Saskatchewan politician Ben Kautz apologized and resigned after he made a Facebook comment about the shooting of a young First Nations man in front of his three friends by a white farmer, saying, “His only mistake was leaving three witnesses.”

The results of the survey of Canadians were even worse among LGBTQ social media users — 58 per cent of whom reported being harassed on the platforms — 38 per cent of visible minorities, and nearly half of users age 18 to 34.

“Only 10 to 11 percent of Canadians say they’re not using social media at all,” said But she emphasized that it’s a myth that online bullying can be simply ignored by logging off.

“Of those who say they’ve been harassed on social media in some way, about one-in-four say it’s actually followed them into their real lives,” she said, “and it’s a little higher for women than for men.

“There can be a sense of minimizing it, ‘It’s just on social media, it’s not real’ … the notion that it’s just a screen, not a person. But there’s a real-life impact to this.”

Among women on social media, the poll found 28 per cent said “their experiences with harassment on social have had an impact on their real lives,” nine points more than for men.

The ways online harassment is impacting people offline include changing real-world habits after receiving threats (57 per cent), one-third who found it affected their relationships with family or friends, and nearly as many who “received unwelcome phone calls/messages/tests” (31 per cent).

More than one in 10 victims on online harassment said they were followed or stalked “in person,” while eight per cent said they had to change their place of work or school afterwards.

Kurl said that Canadians appear to be not taking the abuse quietly, however; the majority called for social media companies to do more in combatting bullying on their platforms.

The Angus Reid Institute poll surveyed 1,530 Canadians online, and had a margin of error equivalent to 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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