Survey: More Than 1 in 4 Americans Experience Severe Online Harassment

More than a quarter of people living in the United States (28%) 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 last week by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Individuals who are part of a marginalized group also reported being less safe online this year than in the past, increasing from 32% in 2018 to 35% in 2020. Religion-based harassment doubled in 2020 from 2018, to 22%.

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

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 35% last year. This was followed by Asian-Americans experiencing harassment because of their race (55% in 2020, 20% in 2018), LGBTQ+ for their sexual orientation (48% in 2020, 63% in 2018), Jews for their religious identity (43% in 2020, 35% in 2018), African Americans for their race (42% in 2020, 27% in 2018) and Hispanics or Latinos for their race (42% in 2020, 30% 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% of Americans and being subjected to purposeful attempts at embarrassment, which was experienced by 28% 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% of women respondents, up from 24% in 2018. In contrast, just 12% of men reported gender-based harassment.

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

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