Asian-Americans Experience Rise in Severe Online Hate and Harassment, ADL Survey Finds

ADL announces REPAIR plan to hold social media platforms accountable

New York, NY, March 24, 2021… Asian-Americans experienced the largest single rise in severe online hate and harassment year-over-year in comparison to other groups, with 17 percent having experienced sexual harassment, stalking, physical threats, swatting, doxing or sustained harassment this year compared to 11 percent last year, according to a new survey released today by ADL (the Anti-Defamation League). Fully half (50 percent) of Asian-American respondents who were harassed reported that the harassment was because of their race or ethnicity.

The nationally representative survey also found a sharp rise in online harassment of African-Americans based on their race, from 42 percent attributing their harassment to their race last year to 59 percent in this year’s survey. This follows a year where the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many other Black individuals by police officers sparked a wave of massive racial justice protests that drew at least 15 million Americans — perhaps the largest protest movement ever in U.S. history.

The findings come in a year when technology companies have been attempting to step up enforcement on their platforms to tamp down online hate and harassment by instituting new policies and taking action against bad actors. American adults who were harassed indicated they experienced the most harassment on Facebook (75 percent), followed by Twitter (24 percent), Instagram (24 percent) and YouTube (21 percent).

“This survey shows that even as technology companies insist that they are taking unprecedented steps to moderate hateful content on their social media platforms, the user experience hasn’t changed all that much. Americans of many different backgrounds continue to experience online hate and harassment at levels that are totally unacceptable,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “And not surprisingly, after a year where national figures including the president himself routinely scapegoated China and Chinese people for spreading the coronavirus, Asian-Americans experienced heightened levels of harassment online, just as they did offline.”

Overall, 41 percent of Americans reported having experienced some form of online hate and harassment in this year’s survey. The survey found that 33 percent of respondents attributed their harassment to an identity characteristic, which was defined as their sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, gender identity, or disability. Twenty-eight percent of respondents who were harassed reported being targeted because of their race or ethnicity.

The overwhelming majority of those polled – 81 percent of Americans – agreed with the statement that social media platforms should do more to combat online hate. Furthermore, 77 percent of Americans think laws need to be made to hold social media platforms accountable for recommending users join extremist groups.

In response to these serious issues, ADL is announcing the REPAIR Plan to hold platforms and individual perpetrators accountable for enabling online hate and extremism. Like ADL’s PROTECT Plan, REPAIR focuses on fighting domestic extremism and terrorism, but goes beyond these issues to address other manifestations and harms of online hate, including harassment, antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, racism and extremist disinformation.

“It has become increasingly clear that on their own, technology companies are not effectively preventing hate and extremism from proliferating online,” Greenblatt said. “Our REPAIR Plan aims to rectify this problem by offering a comprehensive framework for platforms and policymakers to take meaningful action to decrease online hate and extremism.”

The REPAIR Plan priorities include:

  • Holding social media platforms responsible for being transparent about the function and impact of algorithms and engagement features that amplify hate, disinformation and extremism.
  • Reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to end the near-total immunity from liability enjoyed by tech companies for unlawful user content and conduct, while also focusing on changes that do not result in an overbroad suppression of free speech, nor unintentionally cement the monopolistic power of Big Tech.
  • Ensuring that platforms establish and enforce anti-hate policies at scale and allow for independent verification.
  • Prioritizing people over profit by demanding social media companies stop amplifying inflammatory content to increase their ad revenue and users, and provide people who are harmed effective access to reporting and remedies.
  • Increasing protections for targets and victims of online harassment by closing gaps in state and federal laws that currently deny legal redress.

Additional findings from the survey include:

  • For the third consecutive year, LGBTQ+ respondents reported higher rates of overall harassment than all other demographics, at 64 percent.
  • Over a third of Muslim respondents, 36 percent, reported severe harassment online.
  • 36 percent of Jewish respondents experienced online harassment, comparable to 33 percent last year, and 22 percent experienced severe online harassment, comparable to 20 percent last year.
  • Twenty-seven percent of Americans experienced severe online harassment this year— consistent with findings (28 percent) from last year.

The survey of 2,251 individuals was conducted online from January 7, 2021 to January 15, 2021 by YouGov, a leading public opinion and data analytics firm, on behalf of ADL’s Center for Technology and Society to examine Americans’ experiences with, and views of, online hate and harassment. The results are weighted and are representative of all Americans 18 and older. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 2.1 percentage points among the total sample.

In an effort to understand the experiences of individuals who may be especially targeted because of their group identity, the survey included oversamples of respondents who identified as Jewish, Muslim, African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic or Latino, and LGBTQ+.

ADL is the world’s leading anti-hate organization. Founded in 1913 in response to an escalating climate of antisemitism and bigotry, its timeless mission is to protect the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all. Today, ADL continues to fight all forms of hate with the same vigor and passion. A global leader in exposing extremism, delivering anti-bias education, and fighting hate online, ADL is the first call when acts of antisemitism occur. ADL’s ultimate goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate.

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