Facebook, Twitter harassment surges

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New York - Nearly half of Americans under 35 have been bullied, harassed or threatened online, while women make up 57% of victims, according to a new survey by online advocacy groups.

Sixty-two percent of the 1 007 people over 18 surveyed said the harassment happened on Facebook, while 24% was on Twitter, according to a poll conducted by Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies and Craig Newmark - the founder of the Craigslist classified ads site.

More than two-thirds (67%) of those harassed online knew their harasser in real life, while in the under-35 age group, that number rose to 72%.

"The first step toward dealing with unacceptable behaviour: understand the problem, then we can get rid of it," Craig Newmark said.

The survey, conducted between 20 and 22 May, found that sexual harassment is the most common form of online abuse (44%), followed by abuse about professional ability (28 %), about a person's race (23%) and homophobic remarks (14%).

Overall, the poll found that a quarter of Americans said they have been victims of cyber abuse.

Legislation to tackle cyber abuse is still patchy in the United States. There are a handful of laws at the federal level for cases of cyber-stalking, as Los Angeles-based journalist Amanda Hess wrote earlier this year in a series about women and online abuse.

Yet 62% of the online harassment poll respondents said that laws to tackle online abuse are not strong enough or are nonexistent.

A major problem, besides pinning down the abuser, is the fleeting nature of the web, where comments and profiles can easily be deleted while retrieving them would require will and ability.

It is also difficult to fully grasp the tone of threats made online, though the impact can be powerful and crippling.

Almost 30% of respondents said that after receiving online threats, they were scared for their lives, and 20% said they were scared to leave their homes.

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