More than 80 Percent of U.S. Online Gamers Have Experienced Harassment, New ADL Study Finds

Survey reveals increased harassment on gaming platforms from 2019

New York, November 18, 2020 … Sixty-eight percent of players have experienced severe harassment while playing games online, which includes physical threats, stalking and sustained harassment, while 81 percent of online multiplayer gamers have experienced some form of harassment, according to a survey released today by ADL’s (the Anti-Defamation League) Center for Technology and Society. This represents a three percent increase in severe harassment and a seven percent increase in overall harassment from the 2019 survey, which was the first of its kind.

Among online game players who experienced harassment, 52 percent reported being targeted based on their race, religion, ability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The largest year-on-year increase among forms of harassment was in stalking: 44 percent of players reported experiencing stalking in online multiplayer games in 2020, an increase of 10 percent from 34 percent of players in 2019. An alarming 12 percent of online game players have been swatted in an online game, a dangerous practice in which someone attempts to send a SWAT team or other law enforcement unit to someone’s home by falsely reporting that a violent crime is taking place or is imminent.

“Even before COVID-19 online gaming was extremely popular, but the pandemic has pushed more people to look for virtual entertainment. Sadly, more players means that more people are exposed to hate. In fact, the online gaming experience of about 34 million U.S. adults is shaped by hate and harassment,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “At ADL, we are concerned about online hate wherever it manifests, whether it’s through online game platforms or more traditional social media. And just as we have asked Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to more effectively address hate and harassment, we make the same ask of the game industry.”       

The survey also found that online game players were exposed to extremist ideologies and hateful propaganda. Nine percent of respondents reported being exposed to discussions about white supremacy through online games, while 10 percent of players reported being exposed to discussions about Holocaust denial.

“It’s critical that we shine a light on the dangerous ideas that spread on gaming platforms, including antisemitism. Just because these platforms are designed for entertainment doesn’t mean they aren’t spaces where dangerous white supremacist ideologies are normalized,” said Greenblatt. “That’s why fighting hate in online games requires an all of society response- industry leaders, civil society and policymakers must step up to ensure these spaces become the respectful and inclusive communities our society needs right now.”

ADL’s report includes detailed recommendations for actions the game industry, civil society and the government should take to reduce hateful content and harassing behavior in online games. These include calling on gaming platforms to moderate tools for in-game voice chat, improve existing in-game reporting systems and strengthen the policies and enforcement of their terms of service.

The survey also provided detailed analysis of the most popular games in the U.S. For every one of the 15 online games included in the survey, at least half of players reported they had experienced some form of harassment. The six games where players reported experiencing the most harassment were DOTA 2 (80 percent), Valorant (80 percent), Rocket League (76 percent), Grand Theft Auto (76 percent), Call of Duty (75 percent) and Counter Strike: Global Offensive (75 percent).

ADL collected nationally representative survey results in collaboration with Newzoo, a data analytics firm that focuses on gaming and esports. There were 1,009 respondents, which included adults ages 18-45 years old who identified as LGBTQ+, Jewish, Muslim, African American and Hispanic / Latinx, and who played games across PC, console and mobile platforms. Surveys were conducted from July 1 to July 16, 2020, and the margin of error based on the sample size is two-to-three percent, though this may be slightly higher when looking at smaller sample sizes.        

Forty-one percent of women and 37 percent of LGBTQ+ game players reported harassment on the basis of their gender and sexual orientation, respectively. Thirty percent of game players who are Hispanic/Latinx, 31 percent of those who are black or African American, and 25 percent of those who are Asian American experienced harassment because of their racial or ethnic identity. Online multiplayer gamers are also targeted because of their religion as 18 percent of Jews and 25 percent of Muslims reported being harassed because of their religious identity. Twenty-five percent of disabled people were targeted as a result of their disability.    

The survey sheds light on the growing impact of online harassment on targets. For instance, 40 percent of online multiplayer gamers have become more careful about choosing their online partners out of concern for harassment, an increase of 38 percent from 2019, while 33 percent have changed the way they play out of concern for harassment, up from 27 percent last year. In addition, 28 percent of online multiplayer gamers who have been harassed avoid certain games due to a game’s reputation for having a hostile environment, and 22 percent have stopped playing certain games altogether as a result of in-game harassment, both of which are higher percentages than in the 2019 survey.

Although negative experiences with online gaming are rampant, survey respondents did report positive aspects of digital social spaces that exist inside online games including opportunities to connect, build friendships and communities, and learn. Ninety-five percent of online multiplayer gamers have experienced some form of positive social interaction while playing online multiplayer games, including making friends (83 percent) or helping other players (86 percent).    

Building on ADL’s century of experience building a world without hate, the Center for Technology and Society (CTS) serves as a resource to tech platforms and develops proactive solutions to fight hate both online and offline. CTS works at the intersection of technology and civil rights through education, research and advocacy.

ADL is the world’s leading anti-hate organization. Founded in 1913 in response to an escalating climate of anti-Semitism 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 anti-Semitism occur. ADL’s ultimate goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate.