Blog for the Gender and Digital Culture project, a study exploring the impact of digital media and communications on (gendered) relationships and interactions
Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill in our survey – we were overwhelmed with the amount of support we received, and are grateful to the many of you who shared your experiences.
What sort of results did we get? We hope to share our full dataset with you in a more formal format in the coming months, but in the meantime we (Sara, Jim and Lucy) thought that a series of blog posts detailing our data would provide an online space for discussion, as well as a chance to feed back our results directly to the people who allowed us to collect them.
So, this is the first of those posts. What is critical about our research is its focus on a population whose experiences have mostly gone unheard: everyday working adults. Up until now, the scholarship on online harassment has primarily been focused on vulnerable young people subjected to sexual predation or tormented by cyberbullies. The dramatic consequences of these cases have understandably dominated academic and popular concern. Additionally, of late there has been some discussion of the negative use of online media to target high-profile figures – Mary Beard, Marion Bartoli, and, while the survey was live, Caroline Criado-Perez.
In many ways, then, our first question as a research project was to investigate the extent of online harassment in the lives of non-celebrities – ordinary people, making use of digital media in a professional capacity to share and promote their work, network and engage in peer-to-peer interaction. Personal experiences within our own team and anecdotal data suggested that the inappropriate and negative use of online communication tools was more prevalent than had been previously recognised. Yet we were surprised by the answer the survey provided to this first question – how frequently is this happening?
In total, we received 398 valid responses to the survey. Of this self-selecting group, 68% were female, and 50% were either students, jobseekers or individuals at an early stage of their career. We received responses from individuals who identified themselves as working in 245 unique fields, 60% within the higher education sector. And of these individuals, 41.5%, or 165 people, had experienced negative and inappropriate behaviour while online in a professional capacity. More worrisomely, of these respondents, 33% had experienced over five instances of problematic digital interaction in their professional lives to date.
There’s much more to report on the age and gender of these respondents, the nature of their digital communications, the characteristics of their assailants, and most importantly, how they felt about and reacted to their experiences. But for now, the range and extent of respondents who experienced inappropriate and unacceptable uses of digital media provides a striking answer to our initial question. It is not just celebrities, activists, or people with public profiles who are exposed to abuse online – quite the opposite. So, if you shared your experience with us, thank you. You are not alone.