#SettlerCollector: Hashtag helps redirect racist attacks on social media

Elaine Corden helped create hashtag #settlercollector after watching her Twitter feed flood with racist attacks following the acquittal of Gerald Stanley in the death of Colten Boushie.
Jessica Johns (left) sees #settlercollector as a gesture of support from allies like Elaine Corden (right), and a small way to ease the burden of racism that Indigenous people face online. (Jessica Johns/Kevin Hammer)
Listen8:09

Following Gerald Stanley's acquittal in the death of Colten Boushie, Elaine Corden watched as her Twitter feed flooded with racism.

"I follow a lot of Indigenous thinkers and writers and activists on Twitter, and almost immediately following the verdict it was just this onslaught of vile trolls just bothering people and being gleeful and gloating," said the settler and writer.

"It's disgusting."

Feeling helpless after the verdict, Corden wanted to do something.

It just takes some of the emotional labour off the plates of people who are grieving.- Elaine Corden

"One of the things that I've learned from following a lot of Indigenous Twitter users is this concept of holding members of your community to account," she explained.

"These are settlers, these are members of my community," she said.

"So it seemed clear to me that it was my job to come and collect them and to at least manage them in a way that took the burden off. Because it's a settler problem as much as it is a problem for Indigenous people."

So Corden sent out a tweet, and helped start #settlercollector.

The hashtag is simple to use.

"If you're an Indigenous person who is getting hordes of these trolls and racists bothering you online you can just reply to the person who's harassing you and just hashtag it," she explained.  

When someone tweets #settlercollector allies move that conversation to their own Twitter feeds. 

"The person who's being harassed can be freed up to just block the person and not feel like they have to defend points or dismantle the person's crazy theory," she said.

According to Corden, the intention isn't to fight battles for Indigenous Twitter users but instead to offer ally support if it's wanted.

A hashtag doesn't come close to addressing racism and the ongoing impacts of colonization in Canada, but, she says, she hopes that it can help in even a small way.

"It just takes some of the emotional labour off the plates of people who are grieving."

Jessica Johns, an editor who is of Cree ancestry and a member of Sucker Creek First Nation in Northern Alberta, has watched #settlercollector gain momentum online.

While the racism in social media in recent days may appear pronounced, for Johns, it's nothing new.

"The abuse and violence that gets thrown at Indigenous peoples in all spaces is constant, this isn't something that just happens at any one particular time," she said.

For people who are grieving this is just extra. It's vile and it's evil.- Jessica Johns

"And when I say all spaces I mean physical spaces and then this social media space."

With the acquittal, "these trolls come out of the woodwork," she said. "And for people who are grieving this is just extra. It's vile and it's evil."

Johns sees #settlercollector as a gesture of support from allies like Corden, and a small way to ease the burden of racism that Indigenous people face online.

"That's one less racist thing or one less ignorant comment that they have to see," she said.  

For Corden, the hashtag can also give settlers a window into something they might not otherwise see.

"I think it's important just to really get a sense of what it is just to exist as an Indigenous person in this country, not that I will ever be able to understand that fully," she said.  

"It gives you a sense of how far we have to work, and how much I have to do as a settler to make change happen."