By Bernie Farber and Evan Balgord
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Today, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation released an Abacus Data poll showing overwhelming concern for online hate and racism. Canadians also strongly support new regulations and consequences for both the perpetrators and social media platforms.
We have been fighting on the frontlines of this issue for a long time, and know just how important it is to act as soon as possible. We believed that a majority of Canadians agree with us, but to learn that it’s an overwhelming majority is very welcome news. Coming as a bit of a surprise to us, even a majority of people who identify as ideologically on the right are in full support.
The government has been asking for our recommendations on addressing online hate and, with the partnership of over 30 other organizations, we gave them a game plan. Thanks to this survey, we know there is overwhelming support regardless of political orientation, and hope that all political parties will rally together to protect Canadians from online racism and hate.
Here are the key findings:
- 93 per cent of Canadians think online hate and racism is a problem
- 1 in 5 Canadians have experienced online hate, harassment, or violence, including 40 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds, and 29 per cent of racialized Canadians
- 80 per cent support requiring social media companies to remove racist or hateful content within 24 hours of it being identified; 79 per cent support requiring companies to remove those users
- 79 per cent support strengthening laws to hold perpetrators accountable for what they say, share, and do online
A full 69 per cent of Canadians are more concerned about the impacts of racism and hate speech than limits on freedom of speech or privacy. As we’ve discussed many times before, this is a false choice. Curbing hate speech encourages and protects free expression.
Online hate and racism are barriers to many Canadians entering journalism, politics, or expressing themselves. Instead of prioritizing the free expression of racists and online trolls, we can prioritize voices that have been marginalized and attacked – voices that may actually add something to our society.
We would raise two concerns – a surprising majority support requiring a form of de-anonymization – requiring users to prove their identity to social media platforms. We believe anonymity can sometimes protect marginalized groups, dissenters, and can be a healthy part of a democracy. We believe mandated de-anonymization is an overreach and not one of our recommendations to the government.
A majority also support additional resources for law enforcement to address online hate. Here we urge caution and more cost-effective alternatives. Dr. Barbara Perry recently surveyed and interviewed officers in Ontario. There are laudable exceptions, but generally her research found that officers are disinterested in giving any special attention to hate crimes, and that the laws and sentencing enhancements aren’t being used. This is a police culture issue, not a funding issue.
It looks like the years-long struggle by us and many, many allied organizations to hold platforms to account here in Canada are finally paying off. We look forward to exploring the government’s proposed measures.
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