N.B. election candidates face hateful comments on sexual identity, orientation and gender
'I was kind of surprised how much violence that could be'
When researcher Gilbert McLaughlin began studying hateful comments directed at candidates in the New Brunswick election, he was surprised by the subjects.
McLaughlin, who is francophone, began his study about a month ago, expecting to see comments that expressed hatred on issues related to francophones and language.
"I realized — and we saw it last weekend — that most of the comments, insults and hateful comments that candidates are facing is really related to sexual identity, sexual orientation and gender."
McLaughlin is originally from Tracadie-Sheila and is in a postdoctoral position at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa. His research is being conducted through the school's centre on hate, bias and extremism.
Having studied radicalization in university, McLaughlin said he wanted to understand why more people used expressions of violence to prove their point on political issues.
"The hate online was really a good issue to see how people defend their own position with violent terms online. And I was kind of surprised how much violence that could be."
Most comments deleted
McLaughlin said during his research he was only seeing what he described as the small or soft insults, but he spoke to some candidates and found out many are deleting the strongest or more hateful comments.
After asking them to describe or send some of the posts they deleted, the researcher was surprised at what he saw and heard.
Candidates have faced threatening, homophobic and transphobic comments, he said.
"And even some female candidates all comment relating to their body, their ability to doing the job relating to their sexuality. So I was really kind of surprised."
While the researcher said he knew it was something taking place in the United States, and in large cities, it was not something he thought would be as bad as it is in New Brunswick politics.
McLaughlin said he's spoken with 110 people running for election on Monday who have told him the commenters who post the hateful comments do it anonymously or behind a fake profile.
"Between you and me, most candidates are not tech savvy. Most of them doesn't have a person responsible for their own Facebook pages. So they are very busy. The rarely check the comment on those issue."
The researcher said when they do read those comments, they assume they're from people living in their own ridings.
"But the internet is an open border place so often it's people from other ridings. And the issues are really broad like vaccine or abortion, I realize that some of them are from United States or the rest of Canada commenting on their page."
Permission to hate
When asked why people attack candidates in this way, the researcher said it's a mysterious phenomenon that he wants to study more.
"We know we saw two candidate last weekend being removed from their home party because of a comment on Facebook."
On Monday, former Victoria-La Vallée PC candidate Roland Michaud and former Saint-Croix Liberal candidate John Gardner, an openly gay man, were dropped from the party over derogatory comments online about the LGBTQ community.
"In both sides now we saw the polarization effect. People are insulting each other's parties on that topic."
McLaughlin said it's as if politics give people permission to hate but he adds that hate doesn't appear from nowhere.
"It was already been hate against woman and minority before, but with new political events the hate sleep is just awaken and take place more publicly. So it's understandable why this happens.":
McLaughlin said he is going to survey all the candidates after the election. He said three quarters of those he talked to received a lot of hateful comments while some didn't. And he said some women received even more hate than others.
"I have some hypotheses. I think maybe that woman who was more close to the power position to win their seat will be more inclined to receive such comments but it needs to be proved.
"I realize that hate is not split equally yet with all the candidates. And we have to to ask ourselves why."
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With files from Information Morning Moncton