New poll: Nearly 60% have seen online calls for violence based on race, gender or sexual identity

By: - November 28, 2022 12:00 pm

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Women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community are all experiencing higher levels of harassment and threats of violence on social media than other users.

That’s according to a new report set for release Tuesday commissioned by four advocacy groups; UltraViolet, GLAAD, Kairos and Women’s March, and conducted by YouGov.

The Michigan Advance obtained an advance copy of the report, “From URL to IRL: The Impact of Social Media on People of Color (POC), Women, and LGBTQ+ Communities,” which is based on 1,235 online interviews of social media users from across the country.

According to the report, the samples used to determine the findings were based on voter registration lists, the U.S. Census American Community Survey and the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, as well as the 2020 presidential vote. They were also weighted according to gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, and U.S. Census region with a margin of error calculated to be approximately 3.1%.

Among the key findings, the survey found that 57% of people have seen social media posts calling for physical violence based on a person’s race, gender, or sexuality.

Personal identity influenced how respondents experienced harassment in online spaces, with the LGBTQ+ community and women reporting higher rates of harassment than other groups:

  • 52% of LGBTQ+ respondents said they have experienced harassment based on their  sexual orientation while only about 14% of the base sample said the same.
  • 31% of LGBTQ+ people have been harassed due to their gender identity; just 12% of the base sample experienced the same. 
  • 38% of people of color reported facing race- or ethnicity-based harassment; only 15% of white respondents said the same.
  • 25% of women reported experiencing appearance-based harassment, compared to just 17% of men who did.

“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. “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.”

The report also found that individuals who belong to a marginalized community tend to notice attacks against their community more than non-marginalized groups notice against that specific community. 

While 88% of respondents in the LGBTQ+ sample report having seen a post that insults or attacks LGBTQ+ individuals, only 64% of respondents in the base sample had seen the same.

As to the issue of hate speech, more than six in 10 base sample respondents (61%) believe it is a major problem, with LGBTQ+ people 14% and women 19% more likely to concur.  

Additionally, nearly one in three Americans overall, women, and POC respondents said that social media platforms are doing a poor job at addressing online harassment on their sites, while almost two in five LGBTQ+ respondents said the same.

“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.” said Bridget Todd, communications director for UltraViolet. “Social media companies are failing POC, women, and LGBTQ+ communities. As a Black woman with a prominent online presence, I experience harassment regularly and this study shows that I am not alone in this experience.”

Todd added that online hate had resulted in real-world violence, citing the race-motivated mass shootings in El Paso, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia and Buffalo, New York; as well as the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, and in the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

“The white wealthy men like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk who own these platforms don’t share these experiences of being harassed regularly because of their gender, sexuality, race or nationality,” said Todd. “They profit from spreading white supremacy, misogyny, transphobia and homophobia without any accountability.”

Todd stressed that “stark improvements” were needed in comment moderation, banning hateful language and threats of violence and disinformation from all social media platforms.

Former President Donald J. Trump welcomes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, to the Oval Office of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Joiyce N. Boghosian via Flickr Public Domain

“If the platforms cannot regulate themselves, then the government should,” she said.

In fact, the survey found that respondents, whether in the base sample or in particular groups, became more supportive of regulating social media platforms.

“At the start of the survey, 48% of respondents in the base sample said that social media companies should be regulated more than they currently are,” stated the report. After answering the survey, 56% of respondents in the base sample said that social media companies should be more regulated, a net increase of 8 percentage points. A similar 8 percentage point increase in support for regulation happened in the LGBTQ+ oversamples, while women had a 7 percentage point increase and POC respondents had a 10 percentage point increase in their support for government regulation of social media companies.”

The report’s release comes amid heightened criticism against Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, who has said he plans to reinstate nearly all previously banned accounts on the platform, including those suspended for threats, harassment and misinformation. 

Musk already unbanned former President Donald Trump, whose account was frozen after he encouraged the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. He was later impeached on those grounds.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.

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