What Does Online Hate Look Like?
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have spent an unprecedented amount of time online, whether attending school digitally, working from home, or hosting virtual happy hours with friends. As we enter the third year of our new normal, we’ll see some of these behaviors stick, both out of necessity and convenience. More workforces than ever before are now remote, and we’ve become accustomed to socializing online: Bumble’s own data shows a 70% increase in the use of our video chat and voice call feature within the app itself since COVID’s onset.
As we increasingly depend on the internet in every aspect of our lives, it’s crucial to understand what online hate looks like—and what to do if you or a loved one face such harassment. Bumble’s partner, ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), has been leading the way in the fight against hate and extremism both online and offline. Here, ADL shares some helpful insight, as well as actionable advice for anyone who lives even part of their life online.
Online hate is not fringe
Hate and harassment on the internet isn’t reserved for dark corners or niche apps used by fringe groups. It’s often taking place on the world’s largest social, photo-sharing, and video networks. ADL’s 2021 report on online hate includes a breakdown of the sites where Americans reported experiencing the most harassment; they’re all household names.
“This is taking place front and center in a really mainstream way,” says Lauren Krapf, the ADL’s technology policy and advocacy counsel. “It isn’t just on the dark web or through avatars.”
Identity-based harassment remains rife
A third of those (33%) on the receiving end of online hate in 2021 reported harassment based on their identity—or, as Krapf puts it, “who they are, who they love, how they pray, where they’re from, or what they look like.” LGBTQ+ respondents to ADL’s survey reported higher rates of overall harassment than all other demographics, at 64%. More than a third (36%) of Jewish respondents said they’ve experienced online hate.
Of all groups, Asian-American respondents experienced the largest single rise in severe online hate and harassment year over year, from 11% in 2020 to 17% in 2021. (This uptick in hate has played out offline as politicized racist rhetoric fueled anti-Asian violence from the outset of the pandemic.)
“People should be able to enjoy, engage, and interact with folks, and not be marred by fears of harassment because of hate, bigotry, or bias,” says ADL’s Krapf, who notes that this sort of online hate inhibits free speech. “Identity-based online hate chills freedom of speech and expression for targets from marginalized groups because too often the harassment shuts them out of digital spaces.”
Victims aren’t always reporting hate and harassment
Fewer folks on the receiving end of hate online are reporting their experiences to tech platforms. Of the 41% who said they’d been threatened with physical harm online, 38% said they didn’t flag the dangerous post in question to the social media company hosting the content. That figure was 33% in 2020. “It’s an unfortunate statistic,” says Krapf. “People don’t have faith in tech platforms to support them in protecting against online harassment.”
Krapf also noted that there are still no federal laws—and limited state laws—against the practice of doxing, or publishing someone’s personal information online with harmful intent. Through the organization’s Backspace Hate campaign, ADL has been working with legislators in an effort to introduce anti-doxing laws.
How to fight online hate
If you or someone close to you has experienced online hate or harassment, there are several courses of action recommended by ADL.
Try to better understand your digital footprint. “Understand what information about you exists online,” says Krapf. That includes assessing which social networks you use, or have used in the past. If you decide to remove your personal information from any sites, there are guides to help with what can seem like a daunting exercise. Krapf suggests checking out resources offered by PEN America and Online SOS.
Build a support network. Krapf recommends reaching out to a handful of trusted friends who can help keep track of any online hate you’ve received, even if that just means keeping a folder of screenshots on their phone or computer, so you don’t have to see it. “You shouldn’t have to re-experience harassment over and over, so have a good network of support, from an emotional and monitoring perspective,” she says.
Save and report the hateful content. As well as using the reporting mechanisms provided by the online platform in question, reach out to law enforcement—and organizations like ADL. “We believe that there is a way to create a better, safer, and more equitable internet, and we’re fighting for it,” says Krapf.