Racialized Canadians 3 times more likely to experience online hate, survey says
New media campaign highlights issue, calls for accountability from tech companies, government
Noor Fadel was 18 years old in 2017 when she was hit in the face on the SkyTrain in Vancouver by a man who yelled that he was going to kill her and all Muslims.
Fadel posted about the assault on her social media page, and she said what followed was as traumatizing as the physical attack, if not more so.
Her post went viral, prompting a torrent of hateful and threatening comments. Some were sexist; some were Islamophobic; some came from people telling her to go back to her own country.
"Honestly the effect that those comments had on me, even though it's been three years, it's always going to be there," she said in a video.
The video is part of a social media campaign called #BlockHate, launched by YWCA Canada and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) on Sunday to bring the problem of online hate to light and call on the federal government to take action to combat it.
The release of the campaign coincides with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
"The impact of online hate and hatred and racism is very deep," said Mohammed Hashim, executive director of the CRRF.
Racialized Canadians 3x more likely to be targeted: survey
The CRRF recently conducted a study that found racialized Canadians are three times more likely to be targeted by online hate.
"It made perfect sense," Hashim said of the findings. "Our population is changing, a lot more diverse voices are coming forward, and sometimes they're saying things that are uncomfortable."
He said racist people try to silence these voices by attacking them online, with women of colour frequently on the receiving end. The survey also said hateful comments and content are faced or experienced "far more often" by younger Canadians — those between the ages of 18 and 29.
"This campaign really is to ensure that the people who are most impacted by hate are at the centre of the conversation," Hashim said.
The study found that the incidence of experienced or witnessed online racism, sexism, incitements of violence or homophobic comments is widespread. Almost half of Canadians reported either experiencing or seeing racist comments or content online.
Maya Roy, chief executive officer of YWCA Canada, one of Canada's leading women's organizations, said the statistics are likely higher for racialized people.
"It's simply not safe for a Black-identifying or Indigenous person to report a hate crime to the police when they are being racially profiled," she said.
"We know that for many Canadians speaking up simply isn't an option."
Digital hate an extension of hate in real life: YWCA
For Roy, these incidences of online hate are increasing. She said YWCA Canada was Zoom-bombed by white supremacists at the start of the pandemic.
"Unfortunately, things have only escalated from there," she said. "But we could also see that digital hate, unfortunately, is an extension of hate that's happening in real life."
Hashim pointed to the attackers in the Quebec City and Christchurch mosque shootings, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the Toronto van attack.
"All of those people were radicalized online. The inspirations people find online that are hateful … sometimes turn into very violent consequences."
The campaign's launch comes just days after the Atlanta spa shootings, where eight women — six of whom were Asian — were gunned down by a white man.
Justin Kong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, said anti-Asian hate is nothing new in Canada, but that the pandemic has intensified it. Roy called the pandemic a "perfect storm" for anti-Asian racism.
"It stems from the racist assumption that Chinese and Asian people are responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. That's not true, and it's racist to have those beliefs," Kong said.
"We have a very serious problem around anti-Asian racism here in Canada. We need to address it from a policy level, from a personal level and from a community level."
Call for regulation from federal government, tech companies
The #BlockHate campaign is pushing for social media platforms, which they say are the largest purveyors of hate, to be held accountable for the content on them.
"The reality is that algorithms are driving this content. People are almost always one click away from the most hateful content," Hashim said.
Roy agreed, saying tech companies must comply with international human rights frameworks and the laws of the countries in which they operate and from which they benefit.
"I think regulation and legal compliance is fundamentally what's important," she said.
Hashim said this is one step in the process to curtail online hate, because "we can't just legislate hate out of existence."
Inevitably, he said, it's up to everyone — individuals, tech companies and the federal government — to help curb the hate.
In January, the federal government said it is planning to introduce pieces of legislation related to tech giants and "online harms" this year.
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said he will table legislation to create a new government regulator with the power to monitor social media platforms and levy fines on social media companies that allow things like hate speech to remain on their platforms.
"Ensuring that the environment of the online space is protected is not just about curtailing the most hateful voices from being heard, but it's to ensure that real world violence does not follow," Hashim said.
"Real people are being hurt. Real people are being impacted. And their voices need to be heard in this conversation.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
With files from Farrah Merali, The Canadian Press