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About our social experiment

ABOUT OUR SOCIAL EXPERIMENT

We commissioned an analysis of Canada's online behaviour and how it’s changed in the past year. The report found a 600 per cent jump in the past year in how often Canadians use language online that's racist, Islamophobic, sexist or otherwise intolerant.

James Rubec, content strategist for media marketing company Cision, scanned social media, blogs and comments threads between November 2015 and November 2016 for slurs and intolerant phrases like "ban Muslims," "sieg heil," or "white genocide." They found that terms related to white supremacy jumped 300 per cent, while terms related to Islamophobia increased 200 per cent.

"It might not be that there are more racists in Canada than there used to be, but they feel more emboldened. And maybe that's because of the larger racist sentiments that are coming out of the United States," Rubec said.

The rise of intolerant language online led us to the development of a social experiment in real life. So, we chose some popular phrases linked to white nationalism, and printed them on T-shirts to test how three different communities would react. The slogans were: “white power,” “white pride worldwide,” and “make Canada great again.”

What we wanted to find out is this: Would people stand up to racism, or would they support those sentiments? 

We hired an actor to sell the shirts. Working with Canada’s leading hate crimes specialist, Dr. Barbara Perry, we prepared a script for our actor’s sales pitch, based on real language used by Canadian white supremacist groups, and documented by Perry.  
We also consulted with University of Toronto psychologist Dr. Alison Chasteen, whose work focuses on prejudice and stereotyping.

Chasteen and Perry recommended that we conduct the test in both locations that are urban and diverse and a smaller, more homogenous place. We conducted our test in Toronto,  Alliston, and Barrie, Ontario.
The social experiment took place on three different public street corners. We conducted our test in each location for about an hour.  

In both Alliston and Toronto, police officers arrived on the scene and told us they had received several calls from local residents, saying that someone was propagating hate and selling racist T-shirts. 

Here are some more details about what we found:

TORONTO

  • People who walked by: 306
  • People who stopped and looked: 17
  • People who made a passing remark: 16
  • People who stopped and talked: 20
  • People who bought a T-Shirt: 1
  • Total # of people who witnessed the social experiment: 360

ALLISTON

  • People who walked by: 19
  • People who stopped and looked: 6
  • People who made a passing remark:  6
  • People who stopped and talked: 4
  • People who bought a T-Shirt: 4
  • People who walked by on the opposite side of the road: 27
  • People who stopped and looked on the opposite side of the road: 4
  • Total # of people who witnessed the social experiment: 71

BARRIE

  • People who walked by: 18
  • People who stopped and looked: 6
  • People who made a passing remark:  1
  • People who stopped and talked: 15
  • People who bought a T-Shirt: 2
  • People who walked by on the opposite side of the road: 11
  • People who stopped and looked on the opposite side of the road: 5
  • Total # of people who witnessed the social experiment: 58

Total tally of people who witnessed the social experiment in three locations: 489