Social media is increasingly being used for more than just marketing, as a disturbing trend hits a growing number of Australians.
Norton by Symantec has revealed that of 1,030 Australian adults polled, a staggering 70 per cent have experienced some form of harassment online – up from 50 per cent only a year ago.
Somewhat surprisingly, the trend is not isolated to youth, with those aged 40 and over reporting being the victims of online harassment almost doubling from 37 per cent in 2016 to 61 per cent this year.
Sadly, it is often society’s most vulnerable who are the targets of such harassment, with 69 per cent of people with mental health issues and 66 per cent of people within the LGBT community reporting harassment.
“Online or cyber harassment continues to be a real threat for both young and old,” says Melissa Dempsey, senior director, Asia Pacific and Japan at Norton by Symantec.
“While the increased number of incidents could be due to people now feeling more confident to speak up, the fact that reports of online bullying and abusive behaviour is on the rise requires immediate action in terms of online users’ security and privacy.”
Such harassment threatens to become a major workplace issue, given the intertwining of personal and professional lives on social media and the accessing of social media accounts and contacts for work purposes.
Yet in addition to issues around harassment and bullying, the trend also has the potential to expose businesses and their employees to claims of defamation.
“If it’s posted on Facebook, if it’s tweeted, if it’s a comment on LinkedIn, it’s publishing. So the statement has been published, which then brings it within the confines of the Defamation Acts around Australia,” says Mark Gardiner of Teddington Legal.
“If a comment has the effect of damaging the reputation of an individual, in circumstances where it’s untrue and unsupportable, it can be defamation.”