Online hate speech has been a topic of public concern and research interest for some time. This report presents findings from an exploratory study regarding the personal experiences of adults in relation to online hate speech. The study, is part of a larger project regarding online risks and harm, is the first of its kind in the country.  Netsafe conducted this study to contribute research evidence and insights to the understanding of the extent and impact of online hate speech in New Zealand.

Initially the focus of this report centred on the proliferation of online groups and websites promoting and distributing discriminatory content. Since the introduction of more interactive tools and platforms in the mid-2000s that enabled new and faster ways of disseminating content in a relatively anonymous fashion, concerns about online hate speech becoming a pervasive behaviour have increased.

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Key Findings

Personal experiences of online hate speech

  • Overall, 11% of adults reported to have been personally targeted with online hate speech in the prior year.
  • Online hate was more prevalent among:
    • Minority ethnic groups, particularly Asians, followed by those who identified themselves within the ‘other’ ethnicity category, then Māori, and Pacific participants.
    • Males (13%) compared to females (8%).
    • Younger adults, especially those between 18 and 39 year sold.
    • People with disabilities (15%) compared to those without impairments(10%).
    • Non-heterosexual respondents (e.g. gay, lesbian).
  • Of those targeted, about 6 in 10 reported a negative impact from the experience. Most reported being affected emotionally but also exhibiting changes in their behaviour. A third indicated not being affected.
  • ‘Religion’ was the most frequent perceived reason for being personally targeted with online hate speech. This was followed by political views, appearance, race, and ethnicity.
  • In relation to gender:
    • Males believed they were targeted mainly because of their religion, race, political views, and ethnicity.
    • Females, meanwhile, concurred on religion, but rated gender and age significantly higher than males.

Exposure to online hate speech

  • In the prior year, about 3 in 10 of all participants had seen or encountered online hate speech that targeted someone else.
  • Exposure to online hate was more common among participants within ‘other’ ethnic groups.
  • Those who were exposed to online hate believed that people were more commonly targeted because of their religion, race and/or ethnicity.
  • In the prior year, 1 in 20 had intentionally visited a website, online forum and/or social media site that promotes online hate speech.
  • Intentional engagement with these online sites was more common among males, young people under 30 years old, Asians, and those who identified themselves as non- heterosexual.


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More information

Contact Netsafe

The 10 communication principles in the Harmful Digital Communication Act say that a digital communication should not denigrate a person’s colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.  If you are experiencing online abuse or harassment or another online issue, Netsafe has a free helpline to help seven days a week.