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Hate Speech Is a Common Sight for Social Media Users. Here’s How They Want Advertisers to Respond

Most consumers say a brand’s image would be tarnished if they saw its ads on platforms that contained hate speech or misinformation
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Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
November 28, 2023 at 1:51 pm UTC
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One-quarter of daily social media users regularly witness hate speech when they log on, according to the latest Morning Consult survey research, a sobering statistic that reveals a dilemma for both platforms and advertisers.

We conducted this research to better understand consumers’ experience with hate speech online and how they expect brands to react to saturated hate speech on social media platforms.

This comes as several major companies, including Disney, Apple and Comcast, have reportedly pulled their advertising from X (formerly Twitter) following Elon Musk’s promotion of an antisemitic post and a report from media watchdog Media Matters for America that corporate ads were appearing alongside hate speech.

One-quarter of social media users see hate speech when they log on

Hate speech is a normal sight for many social media users: 25% of daily social media users report seeing hate speech every time or most times they use their personal social media accounts. That number jumps to 34% among those who use X on a daily basis.

Hate Speech Has Become the Norm for One-Quarter of Social Media Users

Shares who report seeing hate speech every time or most times they use their social media accounts
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Survey conducted Nov. 21-23, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,202 U.S. adults, including 1,850 daily social media users and 448 daily X users, with unweighted margins of error of +/- 2 and +/-5 percentage points, respectively.

Specific demographics at scale: Surveying thousands of consumers around the world every day powers our ability to examine and analyze perceptions and habits of more specific demographics at scale, like those featured here.

Why it matters: Leaders need a better understanding of their audiences when making key decisions. Our comprehensive approach to understanding audience profiles complements the “who” of demographics and the “what” of behavioral data with critical insights and analysis on the “why.”

Brands risk consumer ire when advertising on platforms that lack proper moderation

Most consumers say a brand’s image would be tarnished if they saw its ads on platforms that contained hate speech or misinformation. Majorities of consumers would also think poorly of brands that advertise on platforms that charge monthly fees for verified accounts or those known to host a sizable number of bot accounts — characteristics that have defined X’s reputation, historically or as of late.

Under Musk, X has also drawn industry scrutiny for lax content moderation policies and corporate mismanagement, both of which are also more likely than not to give Americans a negative view of brands associated with such a platform.

Brands Risk Reputational Blowback With Ads on Platforms With Limited Content Moderation, Hate Speech

Share of U.S. adults who feel favorably or unfavorably toward advertisers on a social media platform that …
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Survey conducted Nov. 21-23, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,202 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points.

Most consumers say brands should pull ads from controversial platforms

Pulling advertisements from platforms with offensive content will generate more goodwill than backlash for brands. A majority (57%) of U.S. adults support pulling ads from social media platforms that allow controversial or offensive content, although Gen Z is slightly less supportive.

Brands Should Pull Ads From Controversial Social Media Platforms, Most Consumers Say

Shares who support or oppose brands’ pulling advertisements from social media platforms that allow controversial or offensive content
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Survey conducted Nov. 21-23, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,202 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points.

Threads looks like the likeliest beneficiary from an X-odus

Two big questions arose following Musk’s takeover of X: whether users would stick around, and where they would go if they left.

Sixteen percent of X account holders said they have sought out alternative social media platforms. Democratic X account holders are twice as likely as their Republican counterparts to be looking for an alternative site.

As for which platform they are heading to, Threads beat out Bluesky and Mastadon as the chosen alternative. Instagram’s Threads, which debuted in July, boasts higher net trust than X among all U.S. adults despite lower brand awareness, according to Brand Intelligence, Morning Consult’s flagship platform that every day asks thousands of consumers about core metrics for over 4,000 brands and products around the world.

16% of X Account Holders Are Looking for an Alternative Platform

Shares who said they have considered using an alternative social media platform to X
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Survey conducted Nov. 21-23, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,202 U.S. adults, including 942 X account holders and 391 Democratic and 302 Republican X account holders, with unweighted margins of error of +/- 2, +/-3, +/-5 and +/-6 percentage points, respectively.

To be sure, all social media platforms are rife with content moderation issues. But their owners aren’t boosting or elevating hate speech themselves. Musk’s conduct, which is said to have caused many advertisers to flee at the outset of his tenure, continues to keep X under intense media scrutiny that threatens brands’ bottom line. Pulling or pausing ad money on X right now is a safe bet for brands.

A headshot photograph of Joanna Piacenza
Joanna Piacenza
Head of Industry Analysis

Joanna Piacenza leads Industry Analysis at Morning Consult. Prior to joining Morning Consult, she was an editor at the Public Religion Research Institute, conducting research at the intersection of religion, culture and public policy. Joanna graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications and holds a master’s degree in religious studies from the University of Colorado Boulder. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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