The American public has become increasingly aware of online hate and harassment in recent years. The scale and complexity of online hate has reached unprecedented levels as seen in sustained online harassment campaigns that violently threaten journalists to organized racist attacks launched against an African-American student leader by a far-right online community. High-profile targets of coordinated online harassment — such as Jewish journalists and African-American actress and comedian Leslie Jones — have drawn the attention of technologists, policy makers, and the public to the problem of online hate.
This report is based on a nationally representative survey of Americans conducted from December 17, 2018 to December 27, 2018, and sheds light on these issues.
This figure is substantially higher than the 18% reported to a comparable question in a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center. Approximately one-third of online harassment appears to be a result of the target’s protected characteristic, such as race or ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability. LGBTQ+ individuals, Muslims, Hispanics and African-Americans face especially high rates of identity-based discrimination.
Online harassment impacts the target in a variety of ways. The most common response is to stop, reduce or change online behavior, which 38% of those who have been harassed have done.
This can include steps like posting less often, avoiding certain sites, changing privacy setting, deleting apps, or increasing filtering of content or users. Many go further, with 18% of harassment targets contacting the technology platform to ask for help or report harassing content.
Fifteen percent take steps to reduce risks to their physical safety, such as moving locations, changing their commute, taking a self-defense class, avoiding being alone, or avoiding certain locations.
Finally, 6% have contacted the police to ask for help or report the online hate or harassment.
People are concerned about the impact that online hate has on society.
More than half of Americans (59%) believe that online hate and harassment are making hate crimes more common.
Significant swaths of the population also feel less safe in their community (22%) as a result of online hate.
ACTIONS TO ADDRESS ONLINE HATE AND HARASSMENT
Americans overwhelmingly want to see concrete steps taken to address online hate and harassment. The survey shows that across political ideologies, the vast majority of Americans believe that private technology companies and government need to take action against online hate and harassment.
Over 80% of Americans want government to act by strengthening laws as well as improving training and resources for police on online hate and harassment. Americans also want platforms to take more action to counter or mitigate the problem.
67% of Americans want companies to make it easier to report hateful content and behavior.
81% want companies to provide more options for people to filter hateful or harassing content. In addition, an overwhelming percentage of survey respondents want companies to label comments and posts that appear to come from automated “bots” rather than people.
A survey of 1,134 individuals was conducted by YouGov, a leading public opinion and data analytics firm, on behalf of ADL examining Americans’ experiences with and views of online hate and harassment. Eight hundred surveys were collected to form a nationally representative base of respondents with additional oversamples from individuals who identified as Jewish, Muslim, African-American, Asian-American or LGBTQ+. For the oversampled target groups, responses were collected until at least 100 Americans were represented from each of those groups. Data was weighted on the basis of age, gender identity, race, census region and education to adjust for national representation. YouGov surveys are taken independently online by a prescreened set of panelists representing many demographic categories. Panelists are weighted for statistical relevance to national demographics. Participants are rewarded for general participation in YouGov surveys but were not directly rewarded by ADL for their participation in this survey. Surveys were conducted from December 17, 2018 to December 27, 2018 and took on average 5 minutes to complete. The margin of sampling error for the full sample of respondents is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
This nationally representative survey finds that harassment is a common aspect of many Americans’ online lives, and appears to be increasing. Over half (53%) of Americans experienced some type of online harassment. This is higher than the 41% reported to a comparable question asked in 2017 by the Pew Research Center. Most prevalent are forms of harassment that are generally isolated offensive incidents: some 41% of Americans were subjected to offensive name calling and 33% had someone try to purposefully embarrass them. More severe forms of harassment were also commonly experienced — with 37% of American adults reporting such an experience, up from 18% in 2017. We defined “severe harassment” consistent with Pew Research Center as including physical threats, sexual harassment, stalking and sustained harassment.
More than one-in-five Americans (22%) reported being subjected to physical threats online and nearly one-in-five experienced sexual harassment (18%), stalking (18%), or sustained harassment (17%).
Online harassment can occur for a variety of reasons, and the survey asked specifically about perceived causes. Around one-third (32%) of Americans who had been harassed reported that the harassment was a result of their sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, gender identity, or disability. One-in-five (20%) respondents who had experienced online harassment believe it was a result of their gender identity and some 15% because of their race or ethnicity. Roughly one-in-ten had been targeted as a result of their sexual orientation (11%), religion (11%), occupation (9%), or disability (8%).6 In addition, 21% of those who were harassed reported that physical appearance and political views drove at least part of the harassment. One consequence of widespread online hate and harassment is that it leaves people worried about being targeted in the future: 27% of those who had experienced harassment and an additional 14% of Americans who had not experienced harassment reported worrying about future harassment.
The survey also sheds light on the relative rate of harassment of different groups. Identity-based harassment was most common against LGBTQ+ individuals, with 63% of LGBTQ+ respondents experiencing harassment because of their sexual orientation. Religious-based harassment was very common against Muslims (35%) and, to a lesser extent, Jewish (16%) respondents. Harassment was also common among other minority groups, with race-based harassment affecting 30% of Hispanics or Latinos, 27% of African-Americans, and 20% of Asian-Americans.7 Finally, women also experienced harassment disproportionately, with gender identity-based harassment affecting 24% of female-identified respondents, compared to 15% of male-identified.
While online hate and harassment is prevalent across all age groups, younger Americans report higher rates than older Americans. The majority of 18–29 year olds (65%) experienced some form of hate or harassment, with 49% reporting severe harassment. Online harassment is also common among older age groups. Among 30–49 year olds, 60% were targeted (42% severely). For Americans 50 and over, 39% were targeted (25% severely).
The survey also asked about where hate and harassment had occurred online. Of those respondents who were harassed online, over half (56%) reported that at least some of their harassment occurred on Facebook. Smaller shares experienced harassment or hate on Twitter (19%), YouTube (17%), Instagram (16%), WhatsApp (13%), Reddit (11%), Snapchat (10%), Twitch (8%) and Discord (7%).
This analysis sheds light on the absolute amount of online harassment occuring on platforms. In order to explore the rate of hate and harassment on each platform, the survey asked about the respondent’s use of different platforms. Chart 6 depicts the proportion of regular users (defined as using the platform at least once a day) who experienced harassment on that platform. The results suggest higher rates of harassment of regular users of Twitch, Reddit, Facebook and Discord. Note that the results may underestimate the amount of harassment on the platforms because some targets may have since stopped using a platform for reasons either related or unrelated to the harassment.
Many people who have been targeted or fear being targeted took action as a result of online harassment. Some 38% stopped, reduced or changed their activities online, such as posting less often, avoiding certain sites, changing privacy setting, deleting apps, or increasing filtering of content or users. Some 15% took steps to reduce risk to their physical safety, such as moving locations, changing their commute, taking a self-defense class, avoiding being alone, or avoiding certain locations. Some attempted to get help, either from companies or law enforcement: 18% contacted the platform and 6% contacted the police to ask for help or report online hate or harassment.
In addition to impacting individuals’ behavior, online hate and harassment is impacting how people see society. More than half of Americans (59%) believe that online hate and harassment are making hate crimes more common, and half believe that they are increasing the use of derogatory language. More than one-third (39%) think that online hate and harassment are making young Americans lose faith in the country, and 30% believe that they are making it harder to stand up to hate. Some feel less comfortable in their more immediate environments: Approximately 22% of Americans report that online hate and harassment makes them feel less safe in their community while 18% feel that it makes family members trust each other less.
Americans overwhelmingly want platforms, law enforcement agencies and policymakers to address the problem of online hate and harassment. Over 80% of Americans want government to act by strengthening laws and improving training and resources for police on cyberhate.
Strong support exists for these changes regardless of whether an individual has previously experienced online hate and harassment. Those who were targeted held similar views as those who had not experienced harassment.
Support also exists for these recommendations across the political spectrum. Although respondents identifying as liberal reported even greater agreement with the actions, those identifying as conservatives overwhelmingly supported all the actions as well.
Americans also want to see private technology companies take action to counter or mitigate online hate and harassment, with 84% saying that platforms should do more. They want platforms to make it easier for users to filter (81%) and report (76%) hateful and harassing content. In addition, Americans want companies to label comments and posts that appear to come from automated “bots” rather than people. Finally, a large percentage of respondents were in favor of platforms removing problematic users as well as having outside experts independently assess the amount of hate on a platform. As with the government and societal recommendations, comparable support existed for these recommendations regardless of whether a respondent had previously experienced harassment.
Like with the government and societal recommendations, support is strong for these recommendations across the political ideological spectrum. Although liberals especially support platform recommendations, with a majority of conservatives also supporting all recommendations.