Washington News Bureau

Report reveals DOJ lacks complete data collection for online hate crimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A hate crime occurs nearly every hour on average in the U.S., according to data reported to the FBI.

Oftentimes, hate speech online can fuel violence in real life.

Now, a new watchdog report is revealing the Justice Department (DOJ) needs more complete information about hate crimes that occur on the internet.

The report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) says there are two main ways the FBI collects information about hate crimes: one way is through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which gathers voluntarily submitted information from law enforcement agencies; and the second way is through the National Crime Victimization Survey.

The survey is meant to produce estimates on hate crimes based on what households are saying, but it does not include information about cyber-related hate crimes. It’s leaving a gap in how these hate incidents are tracked.

“What we found was if there’s an area with high prevalence of online hate speech, there’s a likelihood that there’s increased physical hate crimes in that same area,” said Triana McNeil, a Director for GAO’s Homeland Security and Justice Team. “Victims of hate crimes are not the only victims. The victims are also those that look like them. These can be people with a disability. This can be based on race or gender… It’s got ripple effects.”

>> Army veteran still struggling with Social Security clawbacks as some have benefits restored

According to the report, research shows up to a third of internet users say they have experienced hate speech online.

“Not only are we seeing an increased prevalence of general hate speech and hate, bias-motivated actions online, but we’re also seeing an increase in severe online harassment,” said Lauren Krapf, Director of Policy and Impact for the Center of Tech and Society for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). “There is an association between online hate and offline violence.”

GAO and ADL said it’s critical to make sure there is complete information available about hate speech online.

“What happens online, too often doesn’t stay there,” said Krapf. “We want to be able to stop something before it gets worse… This is happening in the real world and in the real digital world and it’s important we pay attention to both.”

The report calls on the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to explore options to measure bias-motivated crimes on the internet through the national yearly survey.

In response, the DOJ said it agrees with the recommendations.

“BJS will continue to conduct research on the intersection of crimes that are bias-motivated and occur on the internet,” wrote the Assistant Attorney General in the DOJ response. “Based on that research, BJS will determine how best to measure bias-motivated criminal victimization that occurs through the internet.”

Comments on this article