Nearly half of Canadian youth see hateful content at least once a week: Report

The new report highlights stark figures regarding how often youth are exposed to hateful content.

Hazel Woodrow
Canadian Anti-Hate Network

Source: Unsplash


Youth exposure to hateful online content has risen in the last eight years, and nearly half (47%) of youth in grades 7 to 11 report seeing racist or sexist content online at least once a week, according to a new report.

Released by MediaSmarts, a Canadian organization dedicated to developing media literacy and digital citizenship, Young Canadians in a Wireless World, Phase IV: Encountering Harmful and Discomforting Content Online - abbreviated to YCWW - also noted that “both LGBTQ+ youth and youth with a disability are more likely to see racist and sexist content.”

The report also found that the vast majority of youth surveyed agreed that speaking up about hateful content online is important (88%), but over half felt they did not know how to do so (55%). According to the data, 81% of youth “agree that tech companies should do more to stop racist and sexist things from being posted or shared online.” 

Data from the report also suggests that youth who are aware of school policies regarding cyberbullying are more likely to speak out about online hate (90%) compared with youth who are unaware of school policies (73%). The report says youth are more likely to report online hate content to an adult if there are already school cyberbullying policies in place (71%) compared with 53% of youth who are unaware of school policies. 

“This new research shows that while youth want to speak out and learn more about how to recognize and respond to harmful and hateful content online, there is a continued lack of knowledge and confidence to do so in ways that are safe and effective,” Dr. Kara Brisson-Boivin, Director of Research at MediaSmarts, said in a press release.

MediaSmarts’ report reflects similar findings found in research from other organizations. Last year, Common Sense Media, Hopelab, and the California Healthcare Foundation published Coping with Covid-19: How young people use digital media to manage their mental health. The report revealed a number of important findings, such as about one in four 14-22 year olds reported that they “often” encountered hateful content online. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center, with the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University, have highlighted the increased risk of youth being exposed to online harm and bad actors, as a result of a variety of COVID-19 related factors, including substantially increased time spent online. 

During workshops, we often tell caring adults that one way to think about hate in schools and youth is similar to the ways you already think about issues like cyberbullying, gang recruitment, and online sexual exploitation. MediaSmarts’ findings suggest that school communities can use their existing frameworks that address cyberbullying to help deal with online hate.

Online hate is a public health risk, as well as a public safety risk — both because it directly creates negative consequences for people’s wellbeing, and also because it can make seeking out protective factors, like online affirming communities on social media, an increasingly stressful experience. Many queer, trans, Black, and disabled people, have shared their concerns over the last few months, about how the threat posed by the devolution of Twitter will impact important online community spaces of support and care. 

The full report can be found on the MediaSmarts website


As always, if you’re concerned about a young person in your life being exposed to online hate, please reach out to us at [email protected], and we can help you unpack what you’re seeing, and explore next steps.

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