Online hate and harassment: The American experience 2021

How safe are social media platforms now? Throughout 2020 and early 2021, major technology companies announced that they were taking unprecedented action against the hate speech, harassment, misinformation and conspiracy theories that had long flourished on their platforms.

According to the latest results from ADL’s annual survey of hate and harassment on social media, despite the seeming blitz of self-regulation from technology companies, the level of online hate and harassment reported by users barely shifted when compared to reports from a year ago.

This is the third consecutive year ADL has conducted its nationally representative survey. Forty-one percent of Americans who responded to the survey said they had experienced online harassment in this year’s survey, comparable to the 44% reported in ADL’s 2020 “Online Hate and Harassment” report. Severe online harassment comprising sexual harassment, stalking, physical threats, swatting, doxing and sustained harassment also remained relatively constant compared to the prior year, experienced by 27% of respondents, not a significant change from the 28% reported in the previous survey.
  • LGBTQ+ respondents reported higher rates of overall harassment than all other demographics for the third consecutive year, at 64%.
  • 36% of Jewish respondents experienced online harassment, comparable to 33% the previous year.
  • Asian-American respondents have experienced the largest single year-over-year rise in severe online harassment in comparison to other groups, with 17% reporting it this year compared to 11% last year.
This year, fewer respondents who experienced physical threats reported them to social media platforms than was the case the year before; these users also reported that platforms were doing less to address their safety.
  • 41% of respondents who experienced a physical threat stated that the platform took no action on a threatening post, an increase from the 38% who had reported a similar lack of action the year before.
  • 38% said they did not flag the threatening post to the platform, up from 33% the prior year.
  • Only 14% of those who experienced a physical threat said the platform deleted the threatening content, a significant drop from 22% the prior year.
  • Just 17% of those who experienced a physical threat to the platform stated that the platform blocked the perpetrator who posted the content, a sharp decrease from the prior year’s 28%.
The percentage of respondents who reported being harassed because of their identity[i] was comparable to the previous year.
  • 33% of survey respondents reported identity-based harassment this year, not a statistically significant change from 35% last year.
  • 28% of survey respondents reported race-based harassment, comparable to 25% recorded a year ago.
  • However, African-American respondents reported a sharp rise in race-based harassment, from 42% last year to 59% this year.
There was a relatively small drop in perceived religion-based harassment reported by Muslim respondents from 61% last year to 57% this year. Likewise, Asian-American respondents reported a relatively small decrease in online race-based harassment this year (50% from 55%). Regardless, these levels of harassment remain disturbingly high.

Critics, including ADL, contend that platforms instituted their policy changes after years of ignoring warnings about the rise of misinformation and violent rhetoric.[ii] Encountering hate and harassment online has become a common experience for millions of Americans, and that experience does not appear to be getting safer. Technology companies are not resourcing to handle the magnitude of the problem, regardless of what their public-facing statements say to the contrary.

Source: ADL