maeve duggan

maeve duggan

My name is Maeve Duggan and I'm a research associate at Pew Research Center, and that is located in Washington, D.C.

In terms of gaming, we are looking at it as part of our larger body of work on the Internet and technology and its influence on society, which is the main charge of our project, the Internet, Science & Technology Project at Pew. And so my role as a research associate is to not only to brainstorm ideas of what we should be looking into but also write survey questions, do data analysis when those surveys return, write the reports, and then also interact with the media and other channels of distribution like social media in order to get our data out there.

So it really ranges from beginning to end. [Laughs.]

I was going to say, yeah, it's no big deal. You mainly just look at everything.

[Laughs.]

So, Lee [Rainie, director of research for IST] -- we had talked a little bit ago and he had looped me in with you. He mentioned you were a research associate, but said that you specialize in online harassment. I just wanted to make sure, to preface this conversation: Can you tell me a little bit more about that and also what leads a person to be interested in studying a thing?

Yes, true. I am our resident expert on online harassment.

Congratulations.

[Laughs.] Yes, thank you. It's quite an honor.

Meaning the subject area of online harassment, not an expert in personal online harassment, as it were.

Well, it's your area of focus.

Yes. So I wrote a report back in October of 2014, so, coming up on a year that to our knowledge was the first nationally representative focus study about online harassment, both in terms of how people witness and also how they personally experience it.

To give you a little background on how that report came to be, we have been obviously aware of harassment in what's called the "dark side" of the Internet for some time, although much of our research wasn't really geared toward those subjects. And then back in January 2014, Amanda Hess, who's a journalist who primarily writes for Slate, but she wrote a lengthy piece for Pacific Standard called "Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet."

Yeah, I remember that piece.

Yeah. So, that piece sparked a lot of interest widespread throughout different channels online, different media channels. It really sparked a kind of national conversation about online harassment in a more serious and focused way.

And so the data points that we had at that point were very few and far between and we didn't think that it was appropriate to sort of roll those out when they hadn't been done in the context of an online harassment study as a subject.

So, we then decided that we would put together that said study. I did a lot of background research on what existed already, and at the time much of the research surrounding online harassment was more geared towards teenagers and sort of cyber-bullying, I think for a couple reasons.

First of all, students are somewhat easier to study because they are all in one place, usually. [Laughs.] But also, because I think that as a lot of our teens work has shown, there is concern over what teens can access online, what they're experiencing online, and so in terms of educators and other practitioners, that had been a big area of interest.

The expansions to an adult population were more limited and so that additionally was a reason why we thought it was a good time to do a study like this so we could add to that conversation with data and figures and try to contribute something substantial.

So, when Lee and I spoke earlier, he said there's two areas that don't really get necessarily the breadth or as much focus of research from Pew -- to reflect the way people spend time online -- is pornography and videogames.

[Laughs.]

But he told me Pew doesn't really look as deeply at those things as others, but I would be curious to hear about the sorts of data you're curious about from both those focuses as you dip your toes in?

Yeah, so, our data on -- adult content on the Internet is limited. [Laughs.] We have asked about it before, but just sort of a few and far between individual questions. And a challenge with that subject, at least, is social desirability. That if you're answering a survey, especially if it's maybe a phone survey, so you're hearing another person that you're hearing and interacting with, you're maybe less likely to answer completely honestly about your practices or your habits. So that's one challenge in terms of trying to accomplish knowledge on that subject through public-opinion research like phone surveys, which is what we usually trade in.

That's mainly how you get your data?

So, increasingly, we're also utilizing online surveys in a couple of ways. We have -- like, the online harassment survey, for example, was done via Pew Research's panel, which is a collection of people who have agreed to take a survey from us about every month. A panel sample is a little bit different from your standard random digit-dial sample, through the phone.

But what's unique about our panel and makes it especially representative is that they were all invited to the panel from a nationally representative, random digit-dial phone survey to begin with and so at the end of that initial phone survey they were asked if they would be interested in joining the panel. [Laughs.] I could talk about the panel a lot, but I'll leave it there. But it's a representative panel, and so we now have the ability to contact this group of people both online and through the mail, and we also -- because it's a panel survey and you're talking to the same people, you don't have to ask them the same questions every time in terms of, like, demographics or things like that. So it frees up space to ask new questions, but it also means that you know more about these people from older surveys that they've taken that you normally would through your traditional phone survey.

You mentioned you may have some new -- and this may already be out by the time this runs -- information about the audience for videogames that includes more of the adult population. With this particular study, what are the things you're trying to improve where you have more data?

Yeah, a couple things.

First, we just wanna know who are gamers and who are the people who play videogames.

And we also want to know from the general public some of their attitudes towards videogames and towards gamers. So, this first study that we're going to release, date TBD, covers those things. But obviously there's a lot more that you could look into with gaming in terms of -- maybe differences in genre would be interesting, how people sort of mitigate conflict or use it as social support or create friendships or bonds or whatever with people who they play games with, that was some of the most interesting stuff, I thought, from this teen survey that we released recently. It was the survey about how teens use technology to create and maintain and perhaps disband friendships.

Yeah.

Some of that focused on gaming as one channel to have those relationships.

And it found that gaming was particularly important for boys and although teens in general, gaming was very important for them, but especially for boys, and that there were differences also by gender in terms of how teens were playing games.

So, like, girls would maybe be less likely to use voice connections while they play games and that for boys it's a very social activity. They might do it together a lot, whereas with girls it's more solitary. So, that's sort of how this medium of gaming may or may not influence relationship formation, attitude formation, things like that.

But we're at the very beginning of our exploration and right now our data is solid but limited, so I don't want to say too much that may potentially never even come to be.

What seems to be the way the games media uses your data versus non-gaming media outlets or mainstream media uses your data?

Well, we haven't done a dedicated gaming study yet, so I don't really know what the process will look like. I think that the the teen's data is a lot -- is used more by mainstream outlets in the context of the larger story of the report about teens and friendships.

So, that one is kind of to be decided, although certainly we see different stakeholders use our data in different ways outside of gaming, just, in general, how our data gets distributed or used for different purposes.

It varies from channel to channel.

Yeah. You mentioned that you do some online surveys, it isn't always over the phone.

Right.

When you get your data, how do you account for the fact that people's in-person persona or even the way that they fill something out online may not exactly be representative of what their online persona is. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.]

In other words, do you take into account, like, you may not actually be dealing with whoever you're dealing with?

Well, so, in terms of the panel, we know that we're dealing with who we think we're dealing with because we have their information from when they gave it to us over the phone. So we're confident we know who we're talking to.

But I think maybe you're asking more, like, how people behave differently online versus how they behave on the phone or in person. [Laughs.]

Yes. Yeah, I mean, that's not a stretch to assert, right?

[Laughs.] Right.

So, I mean, most of the time, surveys are pretty straightforward online. Like, you select the answer that best applies to you. The advantage of doing surveys online is that it can be, depending on the subject, a better space to conduct that subject's survey. Like, online harassment, for example, it's perhaps easier to -- open-ended questions to describe your experiences with online harassment if it's with a computer rather than a person, in case there's any kind of lingering shame or privacy concerns or, you know, just any worries that people might have about it. It also is just easier to type something out rather than have to speak it to another person.

That's what I was wondering, then: Which is the new public self? Is it the you when you're seen by thousands or hundreds of people online, or is it the you that's seen by a dozen people when you leave your house and go to work?

Yeah. Certainly, for survey research that's kind of the million-dollar question because especially as response rates on phone surveys decline, there's a lot of interest in what are alternative methodologies and will they be trustworthy enough or accurate enough or give you enough statistical reliability. So that's definitely an issue that we're working through here at the research center.

But in terms of are people one thing online and one thing offline, I mean, we haven't asked that specifically, but what we do know is that people use the Internet for all sorts of purposes ranging from pure entertainment to more serious conditions, like if you have a health condition, reaching out and finding a community, simply gathering information or news, interacting with the political process. I mean, teenagers online is a big part of what we study. We're increasingly looking at science and science attitudes and how perhaps that's being mitigated by the Internet.

So, I don't think that it's sort of one or the other but a little bit of both. I mean, people are living out their lives and increasingly part of that life is happening online.

Have you noticed or maybe in discussions with people you've worked with, like, how has the Internet seemed to impact people's general attitudes or demeanors? I know that's a sliding scale because that's an enormously broad sample pool we're talking about and the Internet itself changes very fast and has been around longer and longer.

We did a report called The Web at 25 in the US, so, when the world wide web turned 25, and this is from February of 2014.

So, we asked adults in the US whether they thought the Internet was a good thing for them personally or whether it's been a bad thing or whether it's been both, and 90 percent of Internet users say that the Internet has been a good thing for them personally, only six percent say it's been a bad thing, and three percent said it was a little bit of both.

And then we also asked another version of the question that asked Internet users to think about the Internet's impact on society and whether that's been a good thing or a bad thing or both and in that regard, 76 percent of Internet users said that it's been a good thing for society, 15 percent said it was bad, and eight said it was both.

So, people think that the Internet is a good thing, especially for themselves. [Laughs.]

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So then this is interesting because with some of the stuff, especially around videogames and the things that people are upset about and over, you get into the notion of: How does justice on the Internet even work when you have people fighting for what they think is right, but nobody thinks that they're wrong?

Yeah. I mean -- [Laughs.]

Yeah, I mean, so stepping out a little bit from what we have data on and more just drawing upon what other figures in this area have been publishing and that sort of thing, I mean, the Internet as it was originally imagined was supposed to be this ultra-democratic place where everybody had an equal voice and free speech was of the utmost importance.

That comes with a lot of good, but also a lot of bad as we have seen. And so I think that it especially brings in this idea of, "Is anonymity good or bad for the Internet?" And in that regard, we've researched anonymity, mostly in terms of the context of privacy and whether people feel like their data, their identity, whatever, is safe. But we also asked about anonymity in the online harassment survey and whether it was easier to be anonymous online or offline -- or what was the question?

We asked Internet users to think of their online experiences versus their offline experiences and whether they agreed or disagreed that the online environment allows people to be more anonymous, and 63 percent of Internet users agreed that it's easier to be anonymous online than in their offline lives. And the other two questions in that series asked Internet users if they thought it was easier to be more critical of others and 92 percent agreed. But also, 68 percent agreed that it's easier to be more supportive of others online than offline.

So I think that that question series actually sort of neatly packages up a lot of the dynamics surrounding anonymity in that, yes, being online makes things easier to be anonymous. And that comes with it a lot of criticism, but also a lot of support. Like, sensitive subjects.

For instance, when we were talking earlier about in what instances would you want to use an online survey rather than phone, topics like LGBT are sometimes easier to do online because you don't have to maybe say out loud a response. Although, on phone surveys, you sort of have people just say yes or no to sensitive questions so if somebody else is in the room it doesn't reveal anything that maybe you don't want to reveal about yourself.

But, yeah, I think it's a mixed bag and that sort of, at least in terms of all the research and knowledge that I've acquired for online harassment, it's not so much that people are upset with the ability to be anonymous but rather the sort of lack of structure when you get taken advantage of and that there's not really channels in place to sort of rectify the situation without a lot of labor and time and maybe more emotional trauma.

Insert

Yeah, a lot of it in any direction just seems like vigilantism.

Yeah, for victims of online harassment, like, Amanda Hess is the best example of this but there have also been a lot of journalists who have written about it, especially female journalists, and their experiences. You know, saying that this thing happened to them online, somebody is stalking them online, they've revealed their address, so they know their address, they know other personal information about them, and in Amanda Hess' case, she went to the police and the police were like, "Well, what's Twitter?"

Yeah.

So there's sort of this frustration with law enforcement, you know, is this a state thing? Is this a federal thing? Because the Internet sort of blurs the lines between location.

And then there's also, I think, some frustration with companies and their policies toward harassment. Like, Twitter and Facebook and Reddit and Google and Microsoft all in the past year have updated their policies towards harassment and, I mean, I don't know if you followed the Ellen Pao Reddit thing --

Yeah, I did.

-- but part of that storyline was updating policies surrounding, like, community policies surrounding harassment. It became this whole firestorm.

So people feel very powerfully about it and, you know, the court cases that have happened are more limited in scope. Like, that one that I sent you about the threats that a man made to his former wife on Facebook was framed as a free speech issue.

I don't know if you have any data to speak to this or if you know, but why is it in a supposedly post-race place like the Internet do we see the same white male dominance?

[Laughs.]

Do you have any insights into that?

I mean, not in terms of data we've gathered.

Yeah.

But certainly there have been reports released about, you know, it's very en vogue for tech companies to release these diversity reports and then try to set hiring goals for themselves to increase their diversity. So, there's one line of thinking that it's like networking bias and since a lot of these companies are white-male dominated that sort of perpetuates itself because those are the networks that people know.

But that's more not in terms of data that we have, but other people have been researching and writing about, and what companies themselves have been releasing.

Do you have any data on older demographics? Like, 40 and older, which is "old" for videogames, how does that group experience the Internet? Do they experience harassment as well?

They do. Certainly not as much. I mean, young people are overwhelmingly the people who are experiencing harassment, and then when you look at especially young women and the types of harassment that they experience, it's more severe. Whereas older adults, they might be experiencing it but it's at much lower levels of incidence. I think it's, like, eight percent or something like that.

Eight percent, what does that mean? Just people who have reported it?

So, overall, people -- hold on. It's been a while since I've done not just the top-line figures.

Yeah, I mentioned we might go all over.

The way that we've defined online harassment was anybody who had personally experienced one of six behaviors ranging from the less severe, like name calling, to the severe, sexual harassment or physical threats. And so we found that 40 percent of online adults have experienced one of these things, have been harassed online.

And the breakdown is that a bit more than a quarter have been called names, 22 percent of Internet users have only experienced these less severe types of harassment, like name-calling or embarrassment, while 18 percent of Internet users have experienced any of the more severe types of harassment like stalking, sexual harassment, harassment for a sustained period of time or physical threats, and that the age breakdown there is that young adults are experiencing all types of harassment more.

But when you look at the gender breakdown, young women -- so those 18 to 24 -- are not only experiencing all of these types of harassment at the same higher level as young people in general, but they're especially likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment.

So, basically, triple and double the amount that their male counterparts do. This refers to stalking and sexual harassment only online - otherwise, the figures are more equal between young men and women.

And for older adults, it's just not as prevalent in general, and then it's -- there aren't as many differences by other demographic breaks as well.

Insert

So, around videogames, as you know, within the last year there's been uptick in blatant public threats: death threats, bomb threats, rape threats. How does this sort of behavior get socialized on the Internet?

Something that I thought was really interesting from our online harassment study was that we asked all Internet users about their perceptions of different online environments. So we asked them about whether they feel that different online environments are more welcoming toward men, more welcoming toward women, or equally welcoming toward both, and I mean, the majority of people -- we asked about online dating sites, social networking, comment sections, and online discussion sites. Big majorities of Internet users felt that those sites were equally welcoming towards both sexes.

And online gaming was the standout, and it was the exception.

In that case, 44 percent of Internet users felt that online gaming was more welcoming toward men and just three percent thought it was more welcoming towards women. [Laughs.] And that about half thought it was equally welcoming.

So, whether or not that's true, I think that this speaks to certainly an ingrained perception that online gaming is not a good place for women.

Insert

I mean, I remember a couple years ago -- do you remember the show Breaking Bad?

Yeah, I didn't watch it much because it got a little dark and intense for me pretty early. [Laughs.]

You mean, like, by the end of the first episode?

[Laughs.] Yeah.

Well, there was a thing where the actor who played the main character's wife -- people were so angry and made Facebook groups dedicated to hating and threatening this woman who portrays a fictional character on TV. Normally you would think celebrities are used to getting these sorts of strong reactions in general. But since the advent of celebrity, people have hated them for whatever reason.

Yeah.

But Anna Gunn wrote an op-ed inThe New York Times and I was reminded of this a couple months ago, and I might've even mentioned this in our emails. But it doesn't just extend necessarily to gaming. This is a huge broad question, but does there seem to be a portion of Internet user that seems to be getting angrier?

[Laughs.]

[Laughs.]

Again, we're running into the social desirability bias. [Laughs.]

Yeah, I mean, I think the issue of celebrity online is interesting. In some of the background research that we did for the online harassment report, it came out around the time, if you'll remember, where some nude photos were leaked of Jennifer Lawrence, and this followed other nude photos that had been leaked of -- I think it was, like, Rihanna and Kate Upton and, you know, a lot of the reaction to that, there was sort of this split of people being horrified that somebody's data being hacked and then other people sort of blasting them for being so -- what's a polite word for it?

Non-puritanical?

[Laughs.] Right. And I think it was interesting because after our report was released, there was Curt Schilling. He was a pitcher for the Red Sox. You know, he's the "bloody sock" guy. His daughter, I think, was being harassed on Twitter and he tracked them down and started tweeting out at them and basically, like, harassing them back and he was sort of heralded as this hero: "Oh, don't mess with Curt Schilling!" kind of thing.

So it was also interesting that both celebrities, both dealing with different versions of online harassment, and then there were these different reactions.

Or, like, Zelda Williams, who was Robin Williams' daughter. She just shut down her Twitter account because people were being extremely nasty to her about her father's death, so, I think -- I mean, I think part of harassment, a lot of what we got from the open-ended comments about anonymity was about, you know, people will say anything behind a keyboard and anybody can talk a big game behind a keyboard, whatever, whatever.

But doesn't some of that speak a little bit to -- like, what is it about the Internet that makes it so easy for people to forget that the Internet is made of other people?

Yeah, I mean, there's been research. I don't know if you've come across it, but there's one theory about empathy and that you don't learn empathy if you aren't face-to-face.

And so there's this empathetic disconnect online. It's like, one argument. It would be very hard to survey about that, so we haven't done it. So it's just other research that's out there.

This gets a little into other trepidatious waters, but this is something I've often wondered about and I'd like to ask you this question by just quoting from this article I was reading last night by the University of Minnesota. It said, "Social media allows adults with ASD to observe interactions closely without having to participate or being seen as 'staring.'"

Mmhmm.

But I wonder, is there just a thing about the Internet that promotes it to be that much easier to disconnect? To not remember there's someone else on the other end? I'm trying to think of the most sensitive way to word this.

Hold on, no. I have a data point that is sort of related to this. [Laughs.] Let me see if I can find it. Surprisingly, I have something. I have a data point that speaks to this and this weirdly can transition into some of our politics research, interestingly enough.

I just hope that, at least, in your transcripts you delineate between what's actually ours and what's research from other people. Because I want to lead you in a good direction but I don't want to act like we have all these answers about things.

So, the question about -- can people just sort of observe on social media. We certainly don't have data related to autism in this regard, but we did ask a question on a recent survey among Facebook users asking them how often they share, post, or comment on Facebook as opposed to just reading or viewing content. So, sort of getting at this idea of people who are lurking versus people who are actively participating. And 27 percent of Facebook users say that they frequently are sharing, posting, commenting, whereas seven percent say that they never do this, and 28 percent say that they hardly ever share, post, or comment.

And then the plurality, 39 percent, say that they sometimes share, post, or comment.

And so the way that this relates to politics if that in a lot of our research on politics, and in specific, engagement online and on social media, for people who are already interested in politics, it becomes another great channel where they can engage and connect and they're really active and into it. And for people who don't really care about politics, they don't really care about politics on social media, either, and they tend to ignore it and not really pay much attention. And if there's disagreement, if you see somebody's views online that you disagree with in a political context, most people just sort of ignore it. Or, at least, don't post or comment back.

Which is interesting because in some of the other interviews I do, I ask people if there really seems to be a difference between the way people argue over videogames and the way that, like, if you go onto a politico blog, and most people say it's pretty much the same.
Like, that is something I was wondering, though, is how often do people just ignore each other? Of course you tend to hear from people who are the most vocal, and I do a decent job of rising up people you don't normally hear from, but I do wonder: Who sees stuff about videogames online and flat-out doesn't respond?

Yeah. Let me pull up a -- see if I can find a data point. [Laughs.]

We asked, "If you see content that you disagree with..." Oh, you know what? I sent this to a colleague yesterday. I can dig in my email. This was the report I was trying to find -- when social media users whose friends post political content disagree with what they see, 66 percent ignore it.

But we also asked about ignoring stuff in the online harassment survey and most people ignore. We found that 60 percent of those who had experienced online harassment ignored their most recent incident, and then another 40 percent responded to it. And then we asked people who had ignored or responded to it whether they felt like the action or inaction, as it were, that they took was effective, and majorities in both camps felt that either ignoring it was effective or responding to it was effective, so, you know, no matter what people did, they were sort of happy with the outcome.

[Laughs.]

[Laughs.]

I was curious about the way people respond. Do you have any sort of breakdown on what groups tend to respond in what way?

At that point, the sample size became too small and so we couldn't break it down any further.

Do you get a sense that women tend to report more about online harassment than men?

What do you mean report more, like take steps in response or just be harassed online?

I mean, either would be interesting to hear about, but I meant more in general telling people about it or sharing that it's happened to them.

So, we asked people who have been harassed online to think of their most recent incident and what they did in response to it. So, those who responded to their most recent incident with online harassment.

Okay, yeah, that would be one way to look at it. Yeah.

And so the plurality, 47 percent confronted the person online who was responsible for their harassment, which is kind of impressive.

Forty-four percent just unfriended or blocked that person. Then, sort of smaller and smaller portions take action. Twenty-two percent reported their harasser to the website or online service. This data point is, I think, really interesting: 18 percent discussed the problem online to draw support for themselves.

So I thought that was interesting that they were -- and just to clarify, this an online survey, so they could click as many as they had one -- but I thought that was an interesting approach. You know, a substantial minority of people had taken that action. And then, you know, smaller portions change their user name or delete their profile. They disengage from the online forum that it was on. Eight percent stopped attending certain offline events or places and then just five percent reported the problem to law enforcement.

So there's this big range of actions that you can take, and most people are taking sort of online actions that are relatively easy to take. Forty-nine percent of those who responded took just one step.

So, most people are taking one step and then feeling pretty satisfied with the resolution.

Is there truth to the notion if you just ignore it, it'll go away?

For a lot of people, for sure. I mean, 60 percent are saying that they ignored it, and then a majority of that group is saying it was effective.

So, yeah, for a lot of people, that works.

Do you have any data that indicates what you think parents or adults may not realize about what life is like as a kid around videogames or the Internet today?

We've definitely done surveys about parents and social media and, like, what they talk about with their kids. But we haven't asked specifically about gaming in that dynamic from what I know of. There's only so much space on a survey, you know? [Laughs.]

Is the Internet now real life?

I think I would echo what I said previously in that people are using the Internet for their health, to learn about politics, to connect with friends and share with family, to play videogames, to watch Netflix. They're doing everything online and a big part of their life is online.

But I don't know if people are making that big a line in the sand.

We just released a report on the social etiquette of phones. And I think it speaks well to how the distinction between online and offline life is less stark -- they bleed into one another. Especially check out the findings about whether phones contribute or detract to group interactions – most people are using phones to contribute to groups, although they don’t always like when people use their phones in groups or public places. There are benefits and drawbacks to technology and I think this report speaks nicely to that in a very human way.

People are now living their life out online, but they're also living their life out offline. And those two can help or hinder each other in various circumstances, so there's no nice or neat answer.

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