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Here Are The Shocking Numbers Behind America's Online Harassment Problem

To take on the problem, we must understand how big the problem is.

Each year, ADL releases a report on the state of online hate and harassment in America. We pulled some highlights from the report that show how big of a problem this is in our country. You can read the full report here.

And what’s worse: Only 17% of those people said that the social media platform they were harassed on was willing to block the perpetrator. This is a sharp decline from last year’s results, in which 28% of people claimed the platform was willing to block threatening users.

27% experienced severe online harassment over the past year. Severe harassment includes sexual harassment, stalking, physical threats, swatting (falsely reporting an emergency with the goal of having a response unit — usually a SWAT team — called to someone’s house without their knowledge), and doxing (publishing someone’s personal information online with the intent others use the information for an unlawful purpose, i.e., to cyberstalk or terrorize the target).

LGBTQ+ respondents reported higher rates of overall harassment than all other identity groups for the third consecutive year at 64%. Muslim respondents were at 46% in 2021, which was similar to the already high 42% of Muslims who reported experiencing harassment during the previous year.

The largest single year-over-year rise in severe online harassment was experienced by Asian American respondents, with 17% reporting experiencing it this year compared to 11% last year. Bigotry and conspiracy theories that grew online had an effect offline. National leaders blamed China for the pandemic, including former president Trump, who referred to the virus as the “China plague” or “kung flu.” Such rhetoric, which had roots in the online space, coincided with a spike of physical violence against Asian people.

Last year, ADL found that derogatory posts targeting African Americans quadrupled on Facebook pages shortly after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and during the start of Black Lives Matter protests across the country. They stayed elevated until September, when the pace of protests slowed.

23% of respondents reported having trouble sleeping, concentrating, and feeling anxious because they were harassed online. Another 16% of respondents took steps to reduce risks to their physical safety that included moving locations, changing their commute, taking a self-defense class, not being alone, or avoiding certain locations. In some cases, these behaviors were coupled with other harms, including thoughts of depression and suicide, anxiety, and adverse economic impact. 8% contacted the police to ask for help or to report online hate and harassment, comparable to 5% a year ago.

81% of Americans agree social media platforms should do more to counter hate online. 81% also agree that laws should be strengthened to hold perpetrators of online hate accountable for their conduct. Other sizable majorities want increased user control of online spaces (78%), improved tools for reporting or flagging hateful content (78%), increased transparency into how social media companies work (77%), and accountability in the form of independent reports (69%).

It doesn’t have to be this way and there are real, concrete things we can do to stop it. ADL announced its REPAIR Plan with recommendations for technology companies and government entities to help fight online harassment and push hate to the fringes of the digital world. Do your part in telling lawmakers that we won’t put up with this any longer. Get involved in ADL’s Backspace Hate campaign.

All illustrations by Marjan Farsad