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Almost half of adults on the Net have experienced online harassment -- survey

A new study from Pew Research shows just how widespread online abuse has become.

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Online gaming is disproportionately more welcoming to men than women compared with other online spaces, the Pew research found. Getty Images

It's ugly out there. A new study from Pew Research reports that 73 percent of adult Internet users say they've witnessed someone harassed online, and 40 percent have experienced that harassment personally.

Harassment ranged from being called offensive names on websites and in social apps, to threats and stalking. The study, which polled more than 2,849 adults aged 18 to 50 plus, is among the first to quantify online harassment people experience. It found that 70 percent of young adults aged 18 to 24 were most likely to experience some form of online harassment. Women in this age group suffered severe harassment at "disproportionately high" levels, with one in four reporting being stalked or sexually harassed online.

The study's findings come at an especially sensitive time. Video game critic Anita Sarkeesian has been driven from her home, had her personal information leaked and received multiple death threats. This month game developer Brianna Wu had to leave her home after receiving rape and death threats online because of her views on misogyny in gaming.

Pew addressed this point directly. The study asked participants to rate whether different online environments were more welcoming to men or women, or were equally welcoming to both. The survey found that online dating sites and apps, social-networking services, Internet comment sections and forum sites were overwhelmingly welcoming to both sexes, while 44 percent of respondents said online gaming was more welcoming to men.

Pew also found that though more men suffer harassment, 44 percent versus 37 percent, women are far more likely to experience the more severe kinds of harassment. That includes sexually charged and violent threats, stalking and persistent abuse. Men were more likely to experience offensive name-calling and embarrassment. Half of the people who reported harassment said they didn't know their attackers.