BBC reporter Marianna Spring broke down in tears last March after her investigation revealed that Twitter could no longer protect users — including herself — from hate and disinformation.
"I've had really horrible misogynistic hate, threats, abuse, death threats, scary stuff," said Spring.
One of the troll commenters was Elon Musk himself, who took ownership of Twitter in October last year.
Since then, Musk has rolled back numerous anti-hate policies, while Meta (Facebook's parent company) and Google have both reduced their trust, safety and ethics teams.
"That sent a message to people that actually social media is back if you want to spread hate, disinformation, abuse and harassment," said Imran Ahmed, chief executive officer of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
The latest Online Hate and Assessment report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shows trolls' online harassment increasingly targeted nearly every demographic in the past year — particularly Black, Muslim and Jewish Americans.
But no one was more affected than transgender people, with the ADL attributing the rise to a flurry of anti-transgender legislation and rhetoric.
More than half of the transgender individuals surveyed in the ADL's study reported harassment over the past year, while a whopping 76% said they've been targeted online at some point in their life.
Harassment also varied by platform, with more than a quarter of adults experiencing hate on Twitter and Instagram, while Facebook users saw the most harassment. Reddit was among the platforms with the least amount of harassment, but reports there jumped 10% over the past year.
In a statement, a Reddit spokesperson told Scripps News its internal safety team is dedicated to enforcing its strict anti-harassment policies.
Ahmed told Scripps News the rise in hate is likely a result of cost-cutting measures, as big tech companies lay off hundreds of thousands of workers. He believes the changes could backfire, driving users away along with ad revenue.
"I think what the ADL have exposed is the false economy of reducing the amount of money that you spend on moderation, trust and safety and user experience. Because actually what it does is it means that you get increased hate and abuse," said Ahmed.
He added while social media platforms do have community safety standards, the problem is the lack of enforcement. He said that's when the government needs to step up and create harm reduction policies, "to ensure that they're liable if there is harm created on those platforms, just like any other industry is, and to make sure that they're treated like the publishers of important information."
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