Online hate and harassment report: The American experience 2020

This report is based on a nationally representative survey of Americans conducted from January 17, 2020 to January 30, 2020, with 1,974 respondents, and sheds light on the trends in the online hate and harassment ecosystems. The report is an annual follow-up to our first report on this topic, titled “Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience,” and provides us with the opportunity to compare the average online experience of Americans across years.

Since its inception, social media has played a key role in shaping social, cultural and political developments. This year in particular has seen a tectonic shift in the way communities across the world integrate digital and social networks into their daily lives. The novel coronavirus (and the disease it causes, COVID-19) has spread aggressively, claiming thousands of lives in the United States[i], devastating marginalized populations in major cities, crippling employment and economic opportunities for millions, and forcing a large portion of the global population to work from home in a digital environment. And as our world continues to be redefined through digital services and online discourse, the American public has become increasingly aware of and exposed to online hate and harassment. The Asian, Jewish, Muslim, and immigrant communities in particular are experiencing an onslaught of targeted hate, fueled by antisemitic conspiracy theories, anti-Asian bigotry, and Islamophobia surrounding the novel coronavirus.

The survey underpinning this report predates the digital reality shaped by the coronavirus pandemic. And while ADL has tracked a surge in hateful conspiracy theory content related to the virus across social media platforms, the online hate ecosystem was thriving well before it. ADL’s first survey report on the scope of online hate published in 2019[v] revealed that exposure to toxic content had reached unprecedented levels. Yet, the increasing reliance on digital engagement in all spheres of life brought about by the virus will undoubtedly create new opportunities for exploitation by those seeking to harm others using digital services and tools. And the shift to work-from-home models for technology companies has disrupted the content moderation and safety operations of major social media platforms in significant ways as companies have moved towards a greater reliance on Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems to combat online hate and harassment. The findings of this report have historic significance -- they reflect a flashpoint in the online landscape at the cusp of a global pandemic. Subsequent ADL surveys on this topic will be compared to these findings as a reference point for estimating the impact that greater reliance on AI has had on moderating speech on the internet.

Source: ADL