Online hate speech in Canada is up 600 percent. What can be done? -

Online hate speech in Canada is up 600 percent. What can be done?

Countries across the world are grappling with online hate speech through legislation. Is Canada about to join them?

Marchers at a white-supremacy rally encircle counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Marchers at a white-supremacy rally encircle counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

This piece originally appeared at The Conversation

Under Hitler, Germany experienced the consequences of a nation caving in to propaganda and hate speech. This may explain its government’s urgency to enact a new law, known as the “Facebook Act,” in response to the recent alarming rise of hate speech online.

Canada is experiencing a similar rise.

Media marketing company Cision documented a six-fold rise — that’s a 600 per cent increase — in the amount of intolerant and hate speech in social media postings by Canadians between November 2015 and November 2016. Hashtags such as #banmuslims, #siegheil, #whitegenocide and #whitepower were widely used on popular social media platforms such as Twitter.

Some analysts blame Trump. But Canadian media outlets shouldn’t be too smug about their adherence to the practice of fair and balanced journalism.

A group of scholars at Ryerson University conducted a critical analysis of how the Canadian media covered the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Canada between September 2015 and April 2016. They found several news outlets played a major role in reinforcing the negative image of Syrian refugees and Muslims in the public eye.

The refugees were subject to “othering,” the practice of depicting nonwhite cultures as “alien,” and highlighting differences rather than shared values or interests. The new arrivals from Syria were stereotyped, criminalized (especially men) and perceived as passive, lacking agency, vulnerable, needy and a drain on government resources. Male Syrian refugees were viewed as security threats and female Syrian refugees as voiceless, oppressed and desperate.

My research study investigates the way youth view their role in society as it relates to refugees, and how they regard and interpret online propaganda.

The $74 million question

The European Commission recently announced a new set of guidelines and principles for online platforms to prevent content inciting hatred, violence and terrorism, and Twitter began implementing its new rules for fighting hate on Nov. 1.

Twitter began implementing its new guidelines to fight hate speech on Nov. 1. President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed is seen by some as a factor in a 600 per cent rise in hate speech on social media in Canada.
(AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Should Canada follow in Germany’s footsteps and enact a law that would pressure social networks to remove offensive posts within 24 hours or risk fines of up to $74 million for failing to comply?

Adopting new regulations forcing social media platforms to respond swiftly could be an effective intervention to halt the spread of hate speech online. However, it could also prove to be challenging, as moderators wade into complex language and often get it wrong. Ultimately, we need to adopt a systematic response to hateful and dangerous rhetoric online.

The German social media law has been the subject of criticism since it was announced. Some critics say the law is too broad while others warn it could be the executioner of free speech. The thin line between hate speech and free speech is the focus of many concerned Canadians.

In Canada, hate speech is addressed in the recently updated Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46). However, the applicability of this law to online hate speech is a frequent subject of debate that produces conflicting conclusions. In particular, the Defenses section of the code outlines cases where the proponents of hate speech could be exempted.

Distinguishing hate speech from fear speech — speech originating from fear and masked with terms and expressions usually associated with hate — is by itself a great challenge. Motion 103 (M-103), which condemns Islamophobia in Canada, and was passed in the House of Commons this Spring, is perceived by some Canadians to be suppressing free speech.

How to stop hate online?

Extremist parties, politicians and their fans have all successfully taken advantage of social media platforms to spread messages filled with racism and intolerance — even incitement to radical views.

Right-wing activists and the movements they espouse now total more than 100 organized groups in Canada. They are more visible and also better connected than ever before.

Stopping hate speech and extremist views on social media may be an impossible mission.

Yet, a majority of Canadians get their news about politics through social media giants such as Facebook. Facebook says 84 per cent of young Canadians actively use the social media platform.

Approximately 84 per cent of young Canadians use Facebook, the company says.
(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

“The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it,” said Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda and national enlightenment.

According to the Shannon and Weaver Model of Communication, created in 1948 by mathematician and electronic engineer Claude Elwood Shannon and scientist Warren Weaver, every communication includes an information source, a message, a transmitter, a receiver, a destination and a noise source.

If we apply the communication model to online hate speech, we can identify the information sources as the propagandists, including extremist parties. They craft a simple, direct message such as “Muslims are terrorists” and transmit it through social media posts.

The destination is the audience the propagandists are focused on manipulating. This audience belongs to a whole spectrum, ranging from supporters of the idea to an audience that is outraged by it.

The receiver is the system used by the audience to decode the message and interpret it. The noise source includes the laws, acts, filtering and flagging strategies put in place to prevent the message from reaching the destination.

So far, it has been proven that the sender of hate speech is unstoppable and the noise source lacks efficiency, since hate speech not only persists but also is on the rise.

Therefore, we must shift our tactics. We could for example, focus on the receiver and the destination of the hate-filled message. We could teach the audience — youth in particular — how to withstand digital hate speech propaganda.

Youth need to be part of the solution

Conversations that characterize millennials as passive consumers of news with little and incidental exposure to world events could not be more wrong. A study conducted by the Media Insight Project in 2015 found youth between the age of 18 and 24 are “anything but ‘newsless,’ ” passive or uninterested in civic issues.

Instead, they consume news and information in strikingly different ways than previous generations and their paths “to discovery are more nuanced and varied than some may have imagined.” Social media plays a large role in their news consumption.

Many youth are critical of media content and their choice of the information and the news they read online is far from random. They often see or experience direct or indirect racial discrimination online or witness unproductive, uncivil or disturbing Facebook discussions.

They recognize the agendas and algorithms behind the posts that pop up on their walls, and they hunger for an influential voice that would disrupt the discourses about issues that affect their lives.

Yet, fearing a backlash, a majority of youth choose to remain bystanders in an era where their social media presence and skills are needed the most. They remain “power users (frequent users),” instead of “powerful users (influential users).”

Once youth understand the lenses with which they view online content, they develop empathy towards refugees. Here, a protester holds a sign at a protest in downtown Seattle.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Hate speech and ugly online conversations around Syrian refugees are mainly orchestrated to spread fear among people who might otherwise be members of actual or prospective welcoming communities. A campaign to counter propaganda, led by agents of change, is important to counterbalance the negative influence and allow host societies to make informed choices.

Youth could be our best candidates to be these agents of change, given their familiarity with social media. For this to happen, young people need to develop civic online reasoning and identify ways to leverage the power of social media for “greater control, voice and influence over issues that matter most in their lives.”

They need to understand where their political tolerance and intolerance comes from, and understand the concerns, emotions and values that generate public attitudes.

Many argue that education is not enough. However, equipping and empowering youth to disrupt the messaging transmitted by radical extremists or parties with racist agendas starts with the pedagogy of understanding oneself.

The power of self-knowledge

My research study involved 126 in-depth interviews with 42 youth between 18 and 24 years old from Canada, the U.K., France, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Greece and Lebanon. During the interviews, I engaged these young participants in the process of learning about themselves using tools I adapted from Personal Construct Psychology.

In-depth interviews were conducted with 42 youths, aged 18 to 24, to understand how they viewed their role in the integration and inclusion of refugees in their societies.

I wanted to understand how they viewed their role in the integration and inclusion of refugees in their societies, in a context where the image of refugees was deeply influenced by social media, especially after terror attacks.

I also wanted to discover what knowledge and skills they developed through the process of understanding themselves by identifying their construct systems — the “lenses” they used when decoding digital propaganda targeting sensitive and controversial issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis.

Through our discussions, each of these 42 young people had an “aha moment.”

Regardless of their geographical locations or the ways they experienced the refugee crisis and the recent terror attacks, they had the same sudden realization. Not only could they control how social media influenced them, but they also had a role to play in shaping the image of refugees through what they shared online.

They became critical of media content. They developed empathy towards both refugees and people who rejected newcomers. They moved from passive bystanders, to became confident agents of change, ready to play a leadership role in counterbalancing the digital hate speech propaganda against refugees.

To eradicate digital hate speech propaganda, we need to prevent propagandists from reaching their objectives.

Laws such as Germany’s “Facebook Act” constitute one piece of the solution. The other key is to make sure audiences are trained to better withstand manipulation.

Our youth, once equipped and empowered, are our best candidates to disrupt the messages spread by propagandists and to pursue the mission of putting a stop to hate speech.

Nadia Naffi, Full-Time Faculty in the Education Department, PhD Candidate in Educational Technology & Public Scholar, Concordia University

This piece originally appeared at logo-6ed98023442246a1b432bd646eec8daf94dba5361825aeacd7d7ca488c268e96

The Conversation

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Online hate speech in Canada is up 600 percent. What can be done?

  1. Ban Cons.

  2. Perhaps we should first all share a clear definition of what criminal hate speech is.

    We can’t look to the Supreme Court who ruled in 2015 that “truth has the same effect as lies”. Specifically to prosecute a Canadian for telling the truth that a strong lobby group didn’t like.

    So much for “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” guiding our justice system and constitution.

    • It’s spelled out in the Criminal Code.

    • I find it distressing that so many replies to this post are insulting. No, they’re not within the definition of hate speech as set out in the Criminal Code, but they’re certainly dysfunctional and do not contribute to a reasoned discussion of the issues. Canada has a problem, so what do people propose to solve it?

      • Canada does not have a problem, and yes ‘hate’ is spelled out in the Criminal Code.

      • It distresses you that people’s responses are “dysfunctional”. It’s as good a word as any.

        What function do you think people’s responses should demonstrate?

        In all communication, what are the functions of truth, lies?

        I find it distressing that the Supreme Court has ruled that they have the same function.

        If the Supreme Court and our leaders are so dysfunctional, why are we wringing our hands that the masses are?

        What to do?

        First recognize the real function of truth and lies and how they affect dysfunction.

        Then you too may reach the conclusion that only lies are the problem, and that they can and should be criminalized.

  3. Liberal Logic: Agree with me or your a racist bigot!

    See EMILYONE’s post for proof of how mentally ill the Libs are.

    • So dummy here attacks another poster…..way ta go. LOL

    • So true Emilyone… true.

      • Not so true Emily…..I am confused reading these comments on here…..maybe this site could organize that a whole lot more. I DO NOT AGREE WITH EMILY……liberal logic is true and Trudeau has already stated that word to his OWN BORN REAL Canadians…..RACIST. Sick minded the liberals….very very sick.

  4. What can be done? FIRST OFF…get rid of Trudeau. HE STARTED THIS WAR. He is the one who has told Canadians they have NO CORE IDENTITY. HE IS THE ONE who called us RACISTS. He is following closely on the heels of clinton and obama…..the two biggest RACISTS of America that wanted to gut the core identity of Americans. ISLAM is the biggest problem here. WE DON”T WANT THAT IN OUR COUNTRY. WE DON’T…and we are now speaking up louder and prouder about it. We have open borders for criminals of the same mentality of the European refugees…..violence, oppression, hate, but most of all FREE rent/food, because they cannot and do not want to work for it….I say cannot because there is not enough jobs in this whole world to accomodate the billions of people on this planet. If you see pictures of their countries where they are all CRAMMED in, no trees, living ten to a one bedroom and then see the REALITY of it happening in your own country…you don’t want that here. Soros is the biggest contributor to what is happening on our planet all because his filthy rich elitist ass WANTS MORE MONEY….this is about banks and the Euro dollar and he did an interview stating that he would refugee the whole world out financially breaking their economy. GET RID OF TRUDEAU in Canada….he is Soros pet. There has been more problems since Trudeau took over and since he has allowed three Americans to speak in OUR country their perverse ideas and sell a book of LIES……Obama, Clinton and Sanders.

    • Don’t drink this early in the day. It shows.

      • Drinking at this time of day is perfectly fine. As long as it’s not from the Liberal Kool-Aid pitcher.

        Cause ALWAYS remember, Liberal = Mentally ill

        • See this is how we know you’re drunk.

          I’m not a Liberal.

          Most Canadians don’t belong to ANY political party.

          People can vote differently every time there’s an election. Liberals aren’t a separate species you know….just ordinary people.

  5. Whenever I see what I consider ‘hate speech’, in Macleans or anywhere else, I don’t read it.
    If it’s really, really interesting, topical, well – written and argued I might give it a look. Even then I usually don’t believe it – unless it’s about Putin and Russia.

    Hockey fans calling each other demeaning names and derogatory sexual references shouldn’t count in the 600 percent, eh?

    • It’s human nature to call someone whose behaviour we associate with an unwanted outcome, a derogatory term, something we would never want to be associated with.

      Posters here bandy these terms, often hypocritically. Sometimes there is more than a grain of truth, and we chalk this up as the nature of non violent human conflict.

      The only thing we all share in peace is truth. It is not relative.

      We to speak truth to share it. Laws that criminalize truth perpetuate conflict.

      Remember the brew ha ha over Kevin Pillar this summer and his phoney apology? The only way he could convincingly demonstrate that he considered homosexuality an equal alternative, would be to discard his biological family and join the ranks of the rainbow parade. He didn’t and we’ve moved on.

      Value truth. Move on.

      • It’s too early to preach as well.

  6. Why is the hate speech coming from refugees, mosques and muslim immigrants ignored they get a free pass on hate speech towards others. They are NOT innocent of it.

  7. If the only thing you can add to the discussion is to hurl insults, then stay out of it. You’re simply almost proving the point of the article, i.e., that hate speech is on the rise. I believe every Canadian has a responsibility to be a good citizen, and when we see hate speech or hate-filled speech–and the hurling of unnecessary insults–we should speak up.

    So, what should Canada do about the rise in hate speech we’re seeing on social media and in our daily discourses?

    I doubt we’ll find a solution overnight.

    One idea might be to have a clearer and more comprehensive and detailed definition of hate speech in the Criminal Code. Yes, it might take years for some test cases to wind their way through the court system, but it would be a start, and the publicity relating to such cases might educate us.

    Another way is to follow the lead of other countries, where some of the responsibility is apportioned to the social media companies–and the media–themselves. The larger companies have the resources to shoulder their responsibilities.

    I haven’t checked to see if the federal government has allocated any resources to this specific issue, but in my opinion it should. As well, the provinces could beef up their human rights legislation and resources.

    I have to admit that I am personally appalled at the level of discourse I see on social media and in the comments sections in the media and on blogs, etc. I want to understand it, but so far, I can’t. If the rise in hate speech is the result of people’s increasing fears about losing control over the future (not that we’ve ever really had control over the future) and a fear of change and the unknown, how do we address that?

    And I must admit that I, too, am fearful–of a future where hate subsumes us and all remaining sense of decency and empathy dies. If that is our future, I don’t want to live there. If that is our future, then humanity does not deserve its name, and perhaps doesn’t deserve to survive as a species.

    • Well then go be gloomy and pessimistic elsewhere……we have plenty of food, no world wars going on, and we live longer healthier lives than ever before in history.

      So I’m sure the occasional nasty name won’t hurt you..

    • Value truth. Move on.

      • What is truth?

        • Fact, reality.

          Not lies.

          Not relative.

          • What is reality?

  8. Hatred is conflict. Conflict in speech results from lies.

    Seeing as the Supreme Court has ruled that “truth has the same effect as lies” and we have laws against hate speech, shouldn’t we have laws against telling the truth?

    How would they prove anything in court? I guess it wouldn’t matter anyways.

    • Either source these things or stop repeating them.

      • What I do is called original thinking, based on logic and science.

        Regarding what I say, refute it, accept it or be respectful as you seek help understanding.

        The elementary definitions that you’re looking for, that assign meaning to everyday words, can be found in any dictionary. Use one.

        • No dear, it’s called lying.

          And your’re called a liar.

  9. Maybe it is time Canadians grew up and get out of the largest “safe space” in North America or the World for
    that matter and realize that free speech, even words that are offensive or even hateful, are part of a free
    and open society.

    • No they’re not.

      • A funny comment from you Emily since you only make offensive and hateful comments
        on this site, yet they are not part of a free or open society according to you.

  10. What can be done? You can protect the right to FREE SPEECH. In these times telling the truth is regarded as revolutionary. It’s never really about “Hate Speech”, it’s always about censoring views the political class disagrees with.

    • We can bend over backwards to swallow our pride when someone exercises free speech.

      We listen to what is said and apply our civilized honesty, intelligence, science and logic to discern and distinguish truth (reality) from lies.

      Then we apply those same principles in response for everyone else to do the same.

      That’s how the light of truth (reality) exposes the lies that form corruption.

      The difference between enlightenment and dark ages.

  11. There may be hate speech around but the biggest offenders are muslims in their mosques and islamic schools. This is ignored by the MSM media and gov’ts at all levels. Muslims are now at the height of the rights ladder as our courts cower before them.

  12. Sadly there is a tendency to label anything that is “offensive” as “hate”. No one has a constitutional right to not be offended. When real hate speech (like the incident in Vancouver) where a certain religious leader called for the death of an entire nation goes unpunished but a man can be sent to jail (as in the case in Ontario) for offending someone, it really smacks of hypocrisy.

  13. The biggest problem is most people can’t seem to tell the difference between hate speech and free speech. Expressing an opinion is not hate speech, but many don’t see it this way, especially when it goes against their own direct views. Hate speech is a direct threat to someone that involves name calling and an undiplomatic approach to a conversation. There’s no sign of reason offered by the person other than to sound off like a troll.

    Speaking a truth is not hate speech, but in more cases than ever now the line between the two has become blurred. Truths about what really is are regarded as hate speech by those who profoundly disagree with it, regardless of how much stone cold evidence there is to prove it.

    Bottom line, instead of carving laws about what’s okay to say and what isn’t, people just need to flat out learn to grow up. More laws such at these only create more hate and division among the people, which doesn’t do anybody any ounce of good.

    The Facebook Act should really be renamed to the Farcebook Act because that’s precisely what it is.

  14. We have since the beginning of time evolved to cope with the negative effects of lying.

    In the absence of corroborating witnesses it has always been ones word against another.

    As soon as we make a humanitarian breakthrough, there are those who use it for corruption. People lie. We don’t trust. We never achieve excellence this way. The greater the breakthrough, the greater the risk. We are stalled.

    But there is a solution. We have the cure to the cancer of corruption and we only need to use it to take a new evolutionary path. A civilization free of corruption, free of war, free of starvation, free of greed. A planet to be proud of.

    Everyone must be allowed to wear tiny recording devices to prove the truth (reality) of everything they say and do. Everyone near them potentially recording and creating a complete record of reality. Lying would be very risky.

    It is not a denial of privacy or a negative statement on humanity. It would be a recognition and positive reaffirmation of reality.

    Hate speech is lying.