In this article, you will find tips, links and resources to deal with online racism .
We must be just as accountable for our behaviour online as we are accountable for our behaviour IRL (“in real life”).
Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission
The goal of this toolkit is to inform the public about different ways to confront online racism
- What is an online hate act?
- What are the duties of online stakeholders?
- How can you deal with online racism?
- Who should you contact?
- How can you report hateful content on social media?
- How can we ensure that social media platforms act against hateful content?
- What are some examples of pedagogical tools for e-citizenship?
The rise of intolerant, xenophobic and racist discourse that we see in politics and mass media is exacerbated and particularly visible on the Internet and social media. In 2017, a Canadian study showed that racist, Islamophobic, sexist or otherwise intolerant language had increased by 600% in only one year*. In Canada, 8 out of 10 young people say that they often or sometimes encounter racist comments on social media**.
The Internet should not be a medium where racism can spread with impunity.
Regardless of where it is expressed, whether online or offline, we must combat racism so that everyone can truly benefit from equal rights and freedoms.
Ignoring the problem is not a solution. It is time for action and solidarity. A racist comment is not innocent. It perpetuates social stigma which goes against the idea of a just and equal society. This type of speech further polarizes our society and creates a climate of insecurity for the targeted individuals and groups.
*Source: “Canadians appear to be more hateful online. Here’s what you can do about it ”, CBC, 2017
**Source: “Most Canadians have seen hate speech on social media: survey”, Montreal Gazette, 2019
1. What is an online hate act?
The line between freedom of speech and hate speech is not always obvious. However, in Canada, individuals cannot express whatever they want publicly.
Canadian courts ruled that reasonable limits on freedom of expression can be set for the purpose of combating hate speech. The limitations placed on freedom of speech must, however, be carefully examined.
Under sections 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code, it is a crime in Canada to encourage genocide, to incite hatred and to intentionally promote hatred against a group identifiable by its color, race, religion, national origin or ethnic, age, sex, sexual orientation or mental or physical disability.
Under section 320.1 of the Criminal Code, a judge has the power to order the removal of hate propaganda from a computer. However, this provision has very rarely been used.
Hate speech can spread more freely on the web than on other media, such as television and radio that are subject to the Broadcasting Act. The latter prohibits the broadcasting of abusive comments likely to expose individuals or groups to hatred on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.
Hate crime or hate incident?
There is a legal difference between a hate crime and a hate incident. Both are motivated by prejudices and stereotypes, but the former involves criminal activity. Whether or not they fall within the purview of the justice system, all hateful acts must be denounced and combated, including those on the Internet.
Hate incident: a non-criminal act that affects the sense of safety of a person or an identifiable group of people and that, given the context, is perceived as an act targeting the person or the group due to their race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation or physical or intellectual disability, amongst others.*
Examples of hate incidents:
- Disseminating discriminatory material in person or on the Internet
- Intimidating a person on social media because of their religion
- Using racist slurs or epithets
- Insulting someone based on their national or ethnic origin
- Making offensive jokes about a person’s skin color or sexual orientation
Hate crime: a criminal act motivated by or suspected to be motivated by prejudice or hatred towards an individual or group based on factors such as race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or intellectual or physical disability.**
Examples of hate crimes:
- Drawing a swastika on public property
- Threatening a person because of their religious affiliation
- Assaulting someone on the basis of their skin color
- Threatening someone on social media in relation to their ethnic origin
- Vandalizing a place of worship like a synagogue, a Buddhist temple or a mosque
Source* : “Hate crimes and hate incidents”, SPVM
Source** : “Hate crime”, CPRMV
2. What are the duties of online stakeholders?
The Anti-Defamation League has identified the best practices for responding to cyberhate:
Social media providers should:
- Take reports about cyberhate seriously, taking into account the fundamental principles of free speech, human dignity, personal safety and respect for the rule of law;
- Clearly explain to users their approach to evaluating and resolving reports of hateful content by highlighting relevant terms of service;
- Offer user-friendly mechanisms and procedures for reporting hateful content;
- Respond to user reports in a timely manner;
- Enforce the sanctions outlined in their terms of service in a consistent and fair manner.
The community on the Internet should:
- Work together to address the harmful consequences of online hatred.
- Identify, implement and/or encourage effective strategies to develop counter-narratives— including directly responding; or simply setting the record straight.
- Share knowledge and help develop educational materials and programs that encourage critical thinking in both proactive and reactive online activity.
- Encourage other interested parties to raise awareness about cyberhate and the urgent necessity to address it.
The Anti-Defamation League has also listed the web giants’ policies on hate. You can therefore use their definition to report hateful content and to encourage them to enforce their policies.
3. How can you deal with online racism?*
If you know someone who is the author of racist content online, the best approach may be to contact them in private rather than engaging in a public confrontation. Otherwise, they may get defensive and try to defend their position rather than reflecting on it.
Whether you know the author or not, you are perfectly entitled to defend yourself publicly if you feel attacked.
To begin with, you can ask a question to clarify the author’s position. Sometimes, comments are short and can be interpreted in different ways. By asking a question, you may be able to better understand the person’s position and tailor your response accordingly.
Asking a question can focus the discussion on facts rather than racist prejudices and stereotypes. For example, if someone is talking about “an invasion” in reference to immigration, you can ask them how many immigrants are admitted annually in Quebec. From 2010 to 2018, Quebec received about 50,000 immigrants a year with a population of over 8 million.
You can state facts in order to challenge racist comments. For example:
- If a person associates racialized minorities with crime, you can refer to reports on racial profiling and the fact that the main indicator of the size of police services in Canada is the number of “visible minorities” and indigenous people, regardless of the actual crime rate. The more police officers there are to monitor minorities, the more they are criminalized.
- If someone is talking about a Muslim invasion, you can remind them that the number of Muslims is overestimated everywhere in the West because of their hyper-visibility in the media. In 2016, Canadians thought they represented 17% of the population when the reality was 3,2%.
- If a person claims that all Jews are rich and greedy, you can answer that they belong to all social classes. In 2011, one in five Jewish people in Montreal lived below the poverty line.
- If someone says that refugees come to Canada to take advantage of the welfare system and that they receive more resources than seniors, you can deny this rumor by explaining that the financial aid offered by the government to refugees is temporary and very limited. Only government-assisted refugees who have no other resources or income are entitled to special financial assistance. This assistance is for a maximum of one year. These refugees are entitled to a single allowance of up to 1,300$ and monthly financial support equivalent to provincial social assistance rates.
You can share links to reliable sources. These may include studies or government reports, articles written by professional journalists, official statistics, and so on. You can then leave the conversation knowing that you have contributed to public education while also protecting yourself.
Always keep self-protection in mind and adopt self-care practices. It is important to set your personal boundaries so as not to be dragged into exchanges that end up being hurtful. Responding must be empowering and not emotionally overwhelming. The emotional burden on the author and the target is fundamentally different. The target may come out hurt and deeply angry from an exchange with the person who is the author of a racist message. Meanwhile, the author may, have enjoyed hurting or making their target angry. It is therefore key to know when to shut down a conversation for your own well-being. For example, you could limit yourself to two comments.
The burden of responding to racist content should not rest simply on the people targeted. Witnesses can also show solidarity and support in different ways:
- Participate in the discussion by arguing against racism and supporting the targeted people without silencing them;
- Like a response that challenges a racist message. It’s a way of saying “You’re not alone, I support you.”;
- Report racist content to the digital platform or relevant authorities.
Beyond resistance to negative content, you can:
- Comment and support positive content that you encounter;
- Disseminate positive and anti-racist content to show different perspectives and build solidarity;
- Talk to your relatives about what you observe online to raise awareness about the problems
Source* : “Canadians appear to be more hateful online. Here’s what you can do about it”, CBC, 2017 ; “Confronting Hate Online”, Anti-Defamation League, 2014
The Southern Poverty Law Center provides a community resource guide with ten ways to fight hate:
- Act: Inaction can be seen as a form of acceptance in the eyes of both the author and the victim.
- Join forces: Call on allies and build coalitions.
- Support the victims: Let victims know that they are not alone.
- Speak up: Do not debate with members of hate groups in conflict-driven spaces. Expose and denounce hate. Call on the media.
- Educate yourself: Know how to identify a crime and a hate group.
- Create an alternative: Attract media attention to an initiative that promotes equality.
- Pressure leaders: Make elected officials and community leaders allies of the struggle.
- Stay Engaged: Address prejudices and stereotypes. Do not wait for the next incident or hate crime.
- Teach acceptance of difference: Reach out to young people who may be susceptible to hate propaganda.
- Dig deeper: Examine your own bias and stereotypes. Counter hate in all settings.
4. Who should you contact?*
If you are a witness or a victim of a hate crime:
- Call 9-1-1
- Contact your local police station
- Report the incident anonymously to Info-Crime Montréal(514-393‑1133).
- Report the incident online to the Sureté du Québec.
- Call the Crime victims assistance centre (CAVAC) (1-866-532-2822).
- Contact the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence by phone (1-514-687-7141 / 1-877-687-7141) or by completing an e-form.
If you are a witness or a victim of a hate incident:
- Contact the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence by phone (1-514-687-7141 / 1-877-687-7141) or by completing an e-form.
- Contact the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse(1 800 361-6477)
- Learn how to file a complaint.
- Complete a police report
If you plan on reporting online racism to the authorities, write down as much information as you can:
- When did the incident occur or when was the content viewed? Write down the date and time. Online content can be easily deleted.
- How was the racist content delivered? Is it an email, a tweet, a comment on Facebook, etc.
- What is the username or URL if it’s a webpage?
- Take screenshots. Users can spread racist messages then systematically delete them in order to protect themselves from possible consequences.
Source**: “Hate crime”, CPRLV
5. How can you report hateful content on social media?
Learn more about the terms of services and the community guidelines. It is generally stated that hate speech and racism are prohibited. We must therefore ensure that social media uphold their responsibilities. Mechanisms are available for users to report hate content on social media. Here are the steps to follow for the main social media:
6. How can web giants be made to strengthen their actions against hateful content?
In 2018, Germany passed the “NetzDG” law that forces social media corporations to remove fake news and hateful content on their platforms. As soon as a user alerts Twitter, for example, the corporation has 24 hours to respond, otherwise they face a fine of up to 50 million euros.
This law remains controversial for two complementary reasons.
First, it is difficult to define what constitutes a hate message. Artificial intelligence is not yet able to adequately identify hateful content. It is therefore the moderators’ role to identify hate content. The law puts pressure on social media companies, which can lead to abuse. According to Human Rights Watch, this law therefore violates the right to freedom of speech. Social media companies are not only encouraged to delete comments, but users cannot even appeal the decision. This type of law also opens the door to a drift towards authoritarianism. It creates a precedent for states seeking to restrict freedom of speech, providing them with the opportunity to turn social media providers into the censors of artists, political opponents, journalists and so on.
Secondly, such coercive measures may foster a rhetoric that is central to contemporary racism. This rhetoric states that whites are victims of politically correct elites and minorities. In Germany, the far-right party AfD has capitalized on this legislation by denouncing political correctness. Its representatives speak, for example, of a “DDR 2.0”, a reference to Stasi censorship at the time of East Germany. The extreme right can therefore use such legislation to play the victim and attract sympathy.
In Canada, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) launched the #NotOnMyFeed campaign. This campaign calls on the Government of Canada to develop a national strategy to protect Canadians from online hate while preserving freedom of expression.
7. What are examples of pedagogical tools for e-citizenship education?
SOMEONE (SOcial Media EducatiON Every day) is a web portal of multimedia materials created to sensitize youth, educators, and the broader public to online hate. It aims to counter hate speech and radicalization by developing digital literacy and critical thinking skills.
Seriously is a collaborative platform whose goal is to help the public defuse hate speech online. It provides factual data to develop rational and critical debate, psychological support, and resources to help users support their arguments. It provides advice according to the type of message: Islamophobic, antisemitic, racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ, xenophobic, fake news, and others. As this is a French platform, some of the data provided is France-specific.
MediaSmarts, Canada’s Center for Digital and Media Literacy, offers an educational kit on hate and discrimination in the media and on the Internet. It is intended for teachers, students, police officers as well as the general public. One section focuses specifically on Internet hate propaganda. There are educational resources adapted to different grade levels as well as a “Facing Online Hate” tutorial.
In the spring of 2019, the European Commission will launch the SELMA Toolkit. The SELMA (Social and Emotional Learning for Mutual Awareness) project aims to address the problem of online hate by empowering young people to become agents of change.
The CPRLV provides a prevention and awareness activity to counter online hate speech. The workshop is based on the WediActivists game that was designed as part of the No Hate Speech Youth Campaign.
Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence
Online Hate Prevention Institute
Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse