Press Release

More Than One-Quarter of Americans Experience Severe Online Harassment, ADL Survey Finds

Survey shows members of marginalized groups experience more hate

New York,June 23, 2020… Twenty-eight percent of Americans experienced severe online hate and harassment this year, including sexual harassment, stalking, physical threats, swatting, doxing or sustained harassment, according to a new survey released today by ADL (the Anti-Defamation League).

Individuals who are part of a marginalized group also reported being less safe online this year than in the past: On the whole, online harassment related to a target’s protected characteristics increased from 32 percent in 2018 to 35 percent in 2020. Additionally, religion-based harassment doubled in 2020 from 2018, to 22 percent.

“It is by definition difficult to be part of a marginalized group, and that is as true in the online world as it is in the real world,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “This survey represents a snapshot of a moment in time prior to the coronavirus pandemic and the death of George Floyd, and we believe that if the same survey were conducted today even more people might report negative online experiences. Severe online harassment was a significant problem before, and in our current climate, it’s even more important for platforms and policymakers to take action.”

Platforms varied significantly in terms of harassment. Of all respondents who were harassed online, 77 percent reported that at least some of their harassment occurred on Facebook. Smaller shares experienced harassment or hate on Twitter (27 percent), YouTube (21 percent), Instagram (20 percent) and WhatsApp (9 percent).

In response to Facebook’s repeated failure to meaningfully address the vast proliferation of hate on its platforms, ADL, the NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Color Of Change, Free Press and Common Sense recently announced a new campaign, #StopHateforProfit, to call on corporations to pause advertising on Facebook during the month of July 2020.

The survey also found a dramatic increase in identity-based harassment according to respondents’ perceived reasons for harassment. Sixty-one percent of those who identified as Muslim who experienced harassment online felt it was because of their religious identity, compared to last year’s 35 percent figure. This was followed by Asian-Americans experiencing harassment because of their race (55 percent in 2020, 20 percent in 2018), LGBTQ+ for their sexual orientation (48 percent in 2020, 63 percent in 2018), Jews for their religious identity (43 percent in 2020, 35 percent in 2018), African Americans for their race (42 percent in 2020, 27 percent in 2018) and Hispanics or Latinos for their race (42 percent in 2020, 30 percent in 2018).

Forty-four percent of Americans report having experienced some type of online hate and harassment. Most prevalent forms of harassment include being subjected to offensive name calling, experienced by 37 percent of Americans and being subjected to purposeful attempts at embarrassment which was experienced by 28 percent of respondents. Overall, respondents reported less hate in 2020 than in 2018, but nonetheless this still represents alarmingly high rates of online hate.

Women also experienced harassment disproportionately, with gender-identity harassment affecting 37 percent of women respondents, up from 24 percent in 2018. In contrast, just 12 percent of men reported gender-based harassment.

More than 87 percent of Americans want policymakers to strengthen laws and improve training and resources for police on cyberhate. Additionally, 81 percent strongly agree or somewhat agree that there should be laws to hold perpetrators on online hate accountable for their conduct.

Due to respondents’ experiences with online hate and harassment, 36 percent stopped, reduced or changed online activities, while 18 percent tried to contact the platform directly, 10 percent took steps to reduce risk to their physical safety, and 5 percent contacted the police to ask for help or report online hate or harassment.

The survey of 1,974 individuals was conducted from Jan. 17 to Jan. 30, 2020 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.

In an effort to understand the experiences of individuals who may be especially targeted because of their group identity, the survey included oversampling of respondents who identified as Jewish, Muslim, African American, Asian American or LGBTQ+. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

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.