Majority of Americans report seeing online threats of violence based on race, gender or sexuality

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Story at a glance

  • Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they’ve seen posts online calling for physical violence based on an individual’s race, gender or sexuality.

  • Even when threats aren’t targeted at them individually, women, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals report experiencing harm from witnessing harassment against their peers.

  • The survey, carried out by YouGov, was conducted prior to Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter.

More than half of Americans say they’ve seen social media posts calling for violence against someone based on their race, gender or sexuality, according to results of a new poll, and women and LGBTQ+ people report higher rates of online harassment compared with other groups.

The survey — commissioned by UltraViolet, GLAAD, Kairos, and Women’s March — included a sample of more than 1000 social media users, with oversamples of people of color, women and LGBTQ+ respondents.

“The alarming poll results reinforce just how badly social media companies are failing when it comes to protecting LGBTQ and other marginalized communities online,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. GLAAD, which stands for Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization.

“At a time when online hate and harassment is leading to real world threats and violence, these companies must make urgent improvements to enforcement of content and ad policies. Everyone deserves to feel safe on social media,” Ellis added.

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Findings of the poll, carried out by YouGov, also showed women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community experience harm by witnessing harassment against their communities, even when the posts aren’t directly targeting them individually.

“Meta, Google, TikTok, and Twitter can say they value diversity and inclusion but these results and the lived experiences of countless POC, women, and LGBTQ+ people speak for themselves,” added Bridget Todd, communications director for UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy group.

“Online hate has created real-world violence, everywhere from El Paso, Texas; Charlottesville, Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; Buffalo, New York; the Boston Children’s Hospital; the home of Speaker Nancy Pelosi; and the halls of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.,” Todd said.

Members of marginalized communities are more likely to notice attacks against their community, as 88 percent of LGBTQ+ individuals in the sample reported seeing a post attacking a member of their community, compared with 64 percent of the general public.

When it comes to specific attacks based on race, gender or sexuality, 52 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents said they’ve experienced harassment based on their sexual orientation and 31 percent based on their gender identity.

Nearly 40 percent of people of color reported facing race- or ethnicity-based harassment compared with 15 percent of white respondents. A quarter of women have experienced appearance-based harassment compared with 17 percent of men.

Overall, more than 60 percent of all respondents consider hate speech a major problem, and nearly 1 in 3 Americans believe social media platforms do a poor job at addressing online harassment on their sites.

A plurality of Americans also feel online harassment is a major problem on Facebook and Twitter specifically.

“Platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — as much as they may hope or claim to be, are just not healthy places for women, people of color or members of the LGBTQ+ community, ” said Amanda Chavez Barnes, senior director of programs at Women’s March.

“Our online lives are deep and meaningful — but for too many people harassment and hate are part of the daily user experience. Platforms can and must do better.”

The survey was carried out from July 7-22, 2022, prior to Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. The CEO has been criticized in the weeks since, particularly his decision to grant amnesty to suspended accounts and mass layoffs that could hamper content moderation.

When it comes to solutions, repercussions and platform accountability were the most popular among survey respondents, followed by platforms improving content moderation on their own or enforcing or creating new policies.

However, respondents were more likely to support government regulation of platforms after completing the survey

In addition, despite the threats witnessed, social media users tended to feel ambivalent about their personal online risks, and their overall attitudes about online experiences tended to be positive. Nearly half of LGBTQ+ respondents felt they are more free to be themselves online.

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