British Columbia

1 in 4 Canadians say they've been harassed on social media

According to an Angus Reid survey, 1 in 4 Canadians say they have been harassed on social media, suggesting that this type of bullying is far more prevalent than expected.

'We know now the issue is very real and it's not overblown'

According to an Angus Reid survey, 1 in 4 Canadians say they have been harassed on social media. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Canadian popstar Justin Bieber shuts down his Instagram account because of hateful comments. A B.C. music teacher is falsely accused of being a pedophile on Facebook. Amanda Todd is driven to suicide after years of being tormented online. 

What do these situations have in common? Harassment of some form on social media networks. 

According to a recent survey, 1 in 4 Canadians say they have been harassed on social media, suggesting that this type of cyberbullying is far more prevalent than expected. 

While many police forces don't track harassment specifically, anecdotally many say they have noticed an increase in cyberbullying through social media and online spaces.

Shachi Kurl, the executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, says the organization did the study to get a sense of just how prevalent the issue was in Canada. 

"We've heard anecdotally so many cases of harassment online, and celebrities shutting down their accounts, so we wanted to get a measure of what it's actually like and what the impact is," she said. 

"There is an assumption that it's not real because it's happening in a digital space or it's not as tangible. But what we know now is the issue is very real and it's not overblown."

Who is harassed? 

The survey, perhaps unsurprisingly, found that the more often users are on social media, the more likely it is they will have experienced some type of harassment online. 

Facebook is by far the most-used social network for Canadians. Most of those surveyed, about 52 per cent, use it every day.

Kurl said age — and not gender — is a big factor, with younger users reporting a higher frequency of harassment on social media. 

While women didn't report being harassed in general any more often than men, the study found the nature of the online harassment takes on more sexual overtones for women. 

Women are twice as likely as men to say they've been sexually harassed or stalked, the report found. 

The impact of harassment

Women are also more likely than men to say their experiences with social media harassment have followed them into the real world. 

Kurl said many of those surveyed said they had changed their habits, such as deleting accounts or self-censoring to avoid negative feedback. 

She also said those who had been harassed previously are less likely to be shocked or upset than people who had not been harassed.

"There's almost a normalizing in sensitivity, like a death of outrage," Kurl said. 

What should be done?

Many of those surveyed think it should be up to the social media platform to monitor the harassment and make sure it's not going too far.

The problem is, more than half of Canadians believe those companies aren't doing enough to stop bad behaviour, according to the survey.

Twitter, in particular, has been besieged with criticism for not doing enough to protect its users from harassment, despite multiple initiatives to address the problem.

Instagram unveiled a new feature last month that allows users to filter comments for offensive words and language. 

What should you do if you're harassed on social media?

The conventional wisdom is not to feed the trolls if you're being harassed online or on social media. 

Here are some tips from the Vancouver police:

  • Save and print copies of all relevant texts, emails and other communication.
  • Don't respond to the bullying and do block contact, if possible.
  • Ensure your privacy settings are at the highest setting for social networking websites.
  • Do not put personal details online, such as date of birth, address or phone numbers.
  • Report any cyberbullying to the social media network as well as your Internet Service Provider.
  • If the cyberbullying crosses the line and becomes harassment, involves threats or is a hate crime, call the police.