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Almost 300% increase in harmful online content cases reported during pandemic

By Shannon Williams, 28 Jun 2021

There was a 292% increase in harmful online content cases reported during pandemic, a new study has found.

According to the 2021 state-of-the-nation report: Through These Walls from online content dispute resolution service Report Harmful Content, there was a worrying rise in reported cases, but improved public understanding of identifying and relating incidents to official bodies.

The research found:

  • Staggering 292% increase in harmful content cases reported
  • One in three incidents involved bullying or harassment
  • Concerning 225% increase in hate speech reported
  • Domestic Abuse trend finds 75% of perpetrators personally known to the victim, and three-quarters of reports made by women

Central to this year's findings is the massive 292% increase in harmful content incidents reported, compared to the same period 2019/2020.

Through These Walls seeks to get to the heart of harmful content reporting over the past year, not only regarding harmful content proliferation during COVID-19 lockdown, but also public attitudes towards identifying and raising incidents with an official dispute resolution service.

The report offers a detailed look into the particular types of harmful content flagged, and a breakdown and analysis of the most common forms.

Across-the-board increases

  • From the 644 unique reports logged during 2020-2021, almost a third involved bullying and harassment, whilst a quarter highlighted pornography.
  • Impersonation, violent content and intimate image abuse were other repeat offenders, whilst associated complaints of hate speech rose by 225%.
  • Overwhelmingly, 75% of domestic abuse reports were made by women and 54% were aged between 19-30.
  • A proportion also concerned malicious activity by a former, or current, intimate partner. 

On a more positive note, of the reports logged with RHC, 90% of the content escalated to industry was successfully actioned and removed, indicating the right tools do exist to report and resolve these distressing events for victims.

"Although the report indicates the web is still awash with harmful and inappropriate content, it is a positive sign public awareness around this important issue is increasing," says Report Harmful Content manager Kathryn Tremlett.

"Although these findings indicate an urgent need to better regulate online content and protect internet users, they also show that bodies like RHC are efficacious in giving redress for victims by getting these disputes raised and resolved," she says.

"It will surprise no one that this is just the tip of a much larger iceberg, which needs more exposure. It is our ongoing aim to offer a channel for the public to raise their concerns directly with industry, where legal routes do not currently exist or reporting channels on platforms are not proving effective," Tremlett says.

"COVID-19, and more time spent online, has thrown this into the spotlight, prompting the need for a wider discussion."

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