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Anti-Defamation League study uncovers a surge in online harassment

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The study reveals startling data on users of Facebook and Twitter, but also of Twitch and Discord

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Today the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the results of its study focused on hate and harassment online. The study shows that Americans’ exposure to online hate and harassment is on the rise, and that targets are disproportionately members of vulnerable minority groups. The study includes data on social media giants Facebook and Twitter, but also includes emerging platforms like Twitch and Discord.

The study is based on the survey of some 1,134 Americans by by YouGov. According to the ADL, data shows that harassment is an everyday occurrence for Americans online, and that the incidence of severe harassment appears to be increasing.

“37% of Americans have experienced severe online harassment,” says the ADL, “which includes sexual harassment, stalking, physical threats, and sustained harassment.”

“Approximately one-third of online harassment appears to be a result of the target’s protected characteristic,” the ADL continued, “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 harassment.”

The relative rate of harassment of different groups shows that 63 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents had experienced harassment online according to a 2019 ADL study of online harassment.
The relative rate of harassment of different groups, according to an ADL study, shows that 63 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents have experienced harassment online.
Anti-Defamation League and YouGov

One of the most interesting aspects of the study are its attempts to quantify the rate of harassment online. The survey asked respondents a number of questions about their online habits, then narrowed in on the responses from those who used a given platform on a daily basis.

“In order to explore the rate of hate and harassment on each platform, the survey asked about the respondent’s use of different platforms,” says the ADL. “Chart 6 depicts the proportion of regular users (defined as using the platform at least once a day) who experienced harassment on that platform. The results suggest higher rates of harassment of regular users of Twitch, Reddit, Facebook and Discord.”

In fact, according to the survey, 47 percent of Twitch users say they experienced regular harassment on that platform, outpacing other popular gaming platforms, like Discord and YouTube.

Another chart indicates that the relative rate of harassment is highest for those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

The ADL adds that levels of harassment could be even higher than those captured in this study “because some targets may have since stopped using a platform for reasons either related or unrelated to the harassment.”

The ADL found that online harassment is a driver in behavioral change among respondents. Nearly 40 percent said they “stopped, reduced or changed their activities online” as a result of harassment. Some even admit to “moving locations, changing their commute, taking self-defense class, avoiding being alone, or avoiding certain locations.”

Chart 6, as mentioned above, “depicts the proportion of regular users (defined as using the platform at least once a day) who experienced harassment on that platform” according to the ADL.
Anti-Defamation League and YouGov

The study comes at an uncomfortable time for Twitch, whose policies are under scrutiny following the recent ban of high-profile producer and DJ Joel “deadmau5” Zimmerman, who used a homophobic slur during a livestream over the weekend. In a Reddit response that has since been deleted, Zimmerman took the opportunity to call out the streaming platform for what he calls its “double standard” in enforcing its community guidelines.

The ADL says that technology companies should take more responsibility for what users do and say on their platforms. It recommends that companies strengthen their terms of service, enforce them more regularly, and “design their platforms and algorithms in a way that reduces the influence of hateful content and harassing behavior.” It also calls for expanding tools for those experiencing harassment and improving transparency.

Twitch told Polygon that it is increasing its efforts to mitigate hate and harassment in 2019.

“Twitch is a community of diverse thinkers and creators,” a Twitch representative said via email, “and we want it to be a place where that diversity and creativity continues to thrive. We’re committed to creating a safer and more positive experience for everyone on Twitch. We’re investing a lot this year in our teams as well as in better tools, policies and practices, and communication so everyone in the community understands the standards of participating and has the tools to customize their experience.”