How To Combat Online Harassment At The Workplace
Today, there is a blurring line between our work life and personal life, thanks to the advent of social media and instant messaging. One can be the victim of work-related sexual harassment even when you or your harasser is not physically present at the workplace or “on duty”. A new study by Norton by Symantec reveals that eight out of 10 people have experienced some form of online harassment in India, with the most common forms of online harassment being abuse and insults (63 percent)followed by malicious gossip and rumors (59 percent).
Online harassment may take several forms such as textual harassment and virtual harassment via social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter. Whatever, the technique used, when these forms of harassment occur at the workplace, it creates a hostile work environment.
Incidents of online harassment were particularly high for people in the under 40s age group, with 65 percent reporting online abuse and insults. Frighteningly, 87 percent of people with disabilities or poor mental health and 77 percent of those with weight issues reported experiences of abuse or insults online.
By region, the highest threats of physical violence were reported by victims from Mumbai (51 percent), Delhi (47 percent) and Hyderabad (46 percent) with Delhi victims (51 percent) experiencing the highest incidence of cyberbullying.
Ritesh Chopra, Country Manager, Norton by Symantec said that the level of online harassment in India was extremely concerning. “It is also worrying that for over 40 percent of incidences of cyberbullying and nearly half of all cases of cyberstalking 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,” he said.
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.
Sexual harassment was also a concern for the under 40s, experienced by 40 percent 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 percent 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).
Online harassment often triggered emotional reactions with 45 percent of people saying it made them feel angry, 41 percent irritated and 36 percent frustrated. Worryingly, one in four women found their experience frightening. Online harassment also had a real impact on people’s lives, with 33 percent enhancing their privacy settings on social media, 28 percent reporting that is had impacted their work and studies, 27 percent experienced an impact on the nature of their relationships with friends, 26 percent becoming depressed or anxious and 24 percent 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. The study highlights that one should not respond to the perpetrator and also keep all records and evidence of the harassment by making a copy of the message, photo or video.
As far as workplace harassments are concerned, companies should ave a clear social media policy that clearly defines actions that create a hostile work environment and penalties for failure to maintain a healthy workplace. It is important for employees to understand this policy applies outside of the workplace.
It is important to take all reports of cyberstalking and other electronic harassment seriously. For this, companies should ensure fair and equitable application of censures of the social media policy. Moreover, they should periodically review your social media policy to ensure it meets current legal standards.
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