Anti-Asian hate and harassment increased online, survey finds

Asian Americans experienced the largest rise in "severe" online hate and harassment compared with other groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

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Queenie Wong
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People gather to protest at the Rally Against Hate in New York's Chinatown on March 21 after shootings in Atlanta left eight people dead, including six Asian women.

Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

More Asian Americans are battling severe online hate and harassment as rhetoric blaming Chinese people for the coronavirus pandemic has spread on social networks throughout the year.

About 17% of Asian Americans said in January they experienced severe online harassment compared with 11% during the same period last year, the largest uptick compared with other groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The nonprofit defines severe online harassment as "stalking, physical threats, swatting, doxing or sustained harassment." About half said they were harassed because of their race.

The ADL also found there was a rise in online harassment of African Americans based on their race, which increased from 42% to 59% this year. The ADL has been tracking two other categories of hate, including any online hate and harassment and identity-based online harassment. About 41% of Americans said they experienced online hate and harassment. Americans experienced the most harassment on Facebook followed by Twitter , Instagram and Google-owned YouTube, according to the survey.

The findings come as social networks are under more scrutiny from lawmakers and activists to clamp down on the spread of misinformation including about the coronavirus and vaccines. Social networks have also grappled with misinformation about the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed last year after being pinned down by a white police officer, and the US elections.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been trying to direct users to more authoritative information on their platforms.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg , Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are scheduled to testify Thursday before Congress about how they're tackling misinformation and disinformation. Meanwhile, the shootings this month at three Atlanta-area massage parlors that killed eight people, including six Asian women, has sparked protests throughout the country over anti-Asian hate. The investigation is still ongoing, and Atlanta police said it wasn't clear if the shootings would be classified as a hate crime. 

Advocacy groups, lawmakers, celebrities and others have been urging tech companies to do more to combat online hate speech. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said the survey's findings show "that even as technology companies insist that they are taking unprecedented steps to moderate hateful content on their social media platforms, the user experience hasn't changed all that much." 

"Americans of many different backgrounds continue to experience online hate and harassment at levels that are totally unacceptable," Greenblatt said. "And not surprisingly, after a year where national figures including the president himself routinely scapegoated China and Chinese people for spreading the coronavirus, Asian Americans experienced heightened levels of harassment online, just as they did offline."

In his remarks, Greenblatt referenced former President Donald Trump, who has referred to the coronavirus as the "Chinese virus," a term that critics say fuels discrimination against Asians and immigrants. The World Health Organization says people should avoid referring to any disease using the name of a location. 

The ADL also announced a new effort called the REPAIR Plan, which includes priorities such as ensuring that online platforms enforce their anti-hate rules and reforming a law that shields tech companies from liability for content posted by users.

The ADL teamed up with YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, to conduct the survey. A total of 2,251 people participated in the survey, which was conducted online this year from Jan. 7 to Jan. 15.