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Research United States

Online Hate and Harassment: The American experience

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Source: ADL

The American public has become increasingly aware of online hate and harassment in recent years. The scale and complexity of online hate has reached unprecedented levels as seen in sustained online harassment campaigns that violently threaten journalists to organized racist attacks launched against an African-American student leader by a far-right online community. High-profile targets of coordinated online harassment, such as Jewish journalists and African-American actress and comedian Leslie Jones, have drawn the attention of technologists, policy makers, and the public to the problem of online hate.

This report is based on a nationally representative survey of Americans conducted from December 17, 2018 to December 27, 2018, and sheds light on these issues.

This figure is substantially higher than the 18% reported to a comparable question in a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center. Approximately one-third of online harassment appears to be a result of the target’s protected characteristic, such as race or ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability. LGBTQ+ individuals, Muslims, Hispanics and African-Americans face especially high rates of identity-based discrimination.

Online harassment impacts the target in a variety of ways. The most common response is to stop, reduce or change online behavior, which 38% of those who have been harassed have done.

This can include steps like posting less often, avoiding certain sites, changing privacy setting, deleting apps, or increasing filtering of content or users. Many go further, with 18% of harassment targets contacting the technology platform to ask for help or report harassing content.

Fifteen percent take steps to reduce risks to their physical safety, such as moving locations, changing their commute, taking a self-defense class, avoiding being alone, or avoiding certain locations.

Finally, 6% have contacted the police to ask for help or report the online hate or harassment.

People are concerned about the impact that online hate has on society.