Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience 2022

online hate and harassment report

Executive Summary

Each year, ADL conducts a nationally representative survey of hate and harassment online to find out how many Americans experience incidents of hate and abuse on social media. Our fourth survey finds that harassment remains unacceptably prevalent, despite platforms’ efforts to curb it. Marginalized groups, including Jews, women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people, experience online harassment based on their identity at disproportionately high levels. 

Harassment targeting marginalized people because of their identity constitutes hate-based harassment, typically for someone’s gender, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical appearance, or disability. Hate-based harassment can drive marginalized groups out of online spaces, further undermining democracy and free speech as these spaces become central to public discourse.

This year, ADL has added a separate survey of youth ages 13-17. This, as far as we know, is the first nationally representative survey in the U.S. of young people’s experiences of hate and harassment on social media. Last year, ADL surveyed youth ages 13-17 for its annual survey on users’ experiences of hate and harassment while playing online multiplayer games.

Our key findings:

  • Hate-based harassment, which targets people because of their membership in a marginalized or minoritized identity group, remains high: Such harassment among marginalized groups held steady at 65%, the same figure as the previous year. 58% of marginalized people reported hate-based harassment in the past 12 months, comparable to 58% in 2021.

  • LGBTQ+ respondents were more likely than any other group surveyed to experience harassment: 66% (compared to 38% of non-LGBTQ+ respondents). 53% of LGBTQ+ respondents attributed the harassment to their sexual orientation.

  • Asian Americans reported a dramatic increase in harassment, from 21% in 2021 to 39% in 2022, paralleling the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents offline: This increase follows a spike the previous year in severe harassment toward Asian Americans (17% in 2021, up from 11% in 2020). In 2022, Asian Americans were more likely than non-Asian Americans to report experiencing sustained harassment (18% compared to 11%). 53% attributed the harassment to their race or ethnicity compared to 23% of non-Asian Americans.

  • Women were harassed far more than men:

    • Women were more than twice as likely to report ever experiencing sexual harassment online as men were (14% versus 5%).

    • 40% of women attributed the harassment to their gender (versus 14% of men). Among non-white women, 81% attributed being harassed to aspects of their identity (versus 61% of white women).

  • Harassment over time has hardly budged: Overall, online harassment ever experienced has held steady since 2020, with 40% of respondents reporting some type of harassment compared to 41% in 2021 and 44% in 2020. These slight declines are within the yearly margin of error of plus or minus 2%.

  • Harassment in the past 12 months: 23% experienced some type of online harassment in the past 12 months, down 5 points from the previous year (28%).

  • The rate of severe harassment has not declined significantly: Defined as physical threats, sustained harassment, stalking, sexual harassment, doxing, and/or swatting, severe harassment of some kind was reported by 27% of respondents, the same as in 2021. In the past 12 months, 12% reported severe harassment compared to 14% the previous year.

  • Jewish respondents were more likely than non-Jewish respondents to attribute harassment to their religion: 37% compared to 14% of non-Jews. In addition, 64% attributed the harassment to their political views compared to 43% of non-Jews.

  • Harassment took place primarily on Facebook (68% to date, 57% in the past 12 months), followed by Instagram (26% lifetime, 27% in the past 12 months), then Twitter (23% lifetime, 21% in the past 12 months).

  • A fifth (20%) of those harassed or worried about harassment reported feeling anxious or having trouble sleeping and concentrating: 22% were worried about being harassed, threatened, or otherwise targeted online in the future. LGBTQ+ respondents were disproportionately likely (38%) to experience sleeping loss, difficulty concentrating, or anxiety, and to be worried about future harassment (45%).

  • Nearly half (47%) of youth ages 13-17 reported ever experiencing some type of harassment, and more than a third (36%) in the past 12 months. Youth experienced hate-based harassment at a higher rate than adults: 72% of marginalized youth reported being harassed because of an aspect of their identity, compared to 46% of non-marginalized youth.

ADL’s recommendations

  • Tech companies must:

    • Institute public-facing community guidelines that address hateful content and harassing behavior, clearly defining the consequences of violations and being clear about substantive changes or exceptions in their guidelines. 

    • Regularly evaluate and publicly report on how social media platforms fuel discrimination, bias, and hate, and then make product or policy improvements based on these evaluations. Despite what tech companies claim, having millions or even billions of users is not among the primary problems—defective policies, bad products, and subpar enforcement are, along with a business model that rewards optimizing for engagement.

    • Work with communities targeted by harassment to design product features and policies that will reduce the influence and impact of hate in ways most helpful to those directly targeted (e.g., redesigning social media platforms, adjusting algorithms).

    • Expand tools and services for targets of harassment, ensuring that social media platforms are easily accessible and effective for those facing or fearing an online attack. Such tools can include the ability to batch report violative content and block multiple perpetrators simultaneously, an abuse-report tracking portal, and real-time rapid-response support.

    • Consistently produce comprehensive transparency reports and submit to regularly scheduled independent audits. Third-party experts must evaluate platforms’ performance in enforcing policies and reducing hate online. 

    • Provide data to academic researchers so that scholars can help society better understand and mitigate online hate. 

We hope this survey continues to illuminate the landscape of online hate and harassment, offers effective policy recommendations, and provides much-needed redress to targets.