The Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Today the federal government released a technical paper on its proposal to regulate social media companies, also known as the online harms legislation. This proposed legislation is a step in the right direction. It can potentially do more to prevent hate harassment, hate crimes, and mass murders than all of our work combined for the past five years.
We are experiencing the highest number ever of police-reported hate crimes in Canada. One in five Canadians report being the victim of online hate. One in two members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community report the same. Some members of the Muslim community, and especially women, are afraid to go outside after the London, Ontario terrorist attack that killed the Afzaal family and so many incidents of people wearing hijab being attacked in cities like Edmonton.
This doesn’t occur in a vacuum. There’s an ecosystem that draws people in and fills their heads and hearts with hate. This ecosystem is sustained by content creators and hate propaganda finding and connecting with an audience. If we disrupt that ecosystem by going after both the platforms (audience) and the propagandists, fewer youth will fall into hate movements and there will be fewer terrorist attacks and fewer hate crimes. Time and time again we’ve seen that deplatforming works.
We know for a fact that hate speech silences and marginalizes women, BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ persons, and other equity-seeking groups. They choose to leave or never enter politics, journalism, or share an opinion as protection and self-preservation against racists and abusers who send them hateful messages and rape and death threats.
Hate speech is an attack on free speech. Removing hate will make it more possible for women, BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ persons, etc., to exercise their Charter rights to expression and fully participate in society.
For months we have been consulted by the government, and advocated for elements that are in this technical paper. That’s a win for us and our 30+ partner organizations, but there’s much more to do.
The Legislation Proposal
It is critical that social media companies are required to follow Canadian law and jurisprudence with respect to illegal hate-promoting content.
It's not clear whether the proposed legislation creates a requirement for social media companies to proactively remove hate, and face fines if they don't. It is critical that the legislation be clear on this point, and that it requires social media companies to take proactive steps to keep their platforms free of hateful material, as other countries have done. Anything less will put the onus on victims to clean up the messes that social media companies are making, which is unfair to victims and will do little to stem the tide of hate. We hope to learn more about this part of the proposal in the coming days.
This new regulator would have broad powers to investigate social media platforms, including their algorithms. It would also compel detailed reports from social companies as to their performance cleaning up hate. This is excellent.
Unfortunately, the legislation proposal as it is written may still put the onus on victims of online hate attacks. They will have to file complaints and go up against social media giants in instances where they do not remove hate speech. This is a backward approach, and has the potential to retraumatize victims of online hate multiple times over. We will be advocating for the best system for victims of online harm through this consultation process.
We are disappointed that actual legislation appears to be so far away. We need immediate legislation dealing with online hate impacting equity-seeking groups, not two years down the line, when the problem is worse, or after more mass murders have been committed.
Call to Action
This upcoming legislation is the most important piece in the fight against hate today, and we need your help.
The far-right and their mainstream allies have already started a disinformation campaign to fight it. If you see bad arguments against anti-hate legislation, debunk them with this guide.
The government is accepting submissions on this legislation proposal until September 25. Tell them that they can’t put the onus on victims to clean up social media -- the legislation must protect victims of online hate, and must require the social media companies to take substantive and meaningful steps to do the same, or face penalties.