Poll shows strong support for regulating online hate

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Credit Canadian Race Relations Foundation

One in five Canadians has experienced online hate, and a majority of Canadians believe the federal government should do more to prevent the spread of hateful and racist behaviour online.

Those are among the key findings of a new survey conducted by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) and Abacus Data.

Released Jan. 25, the survey found an overwhelming majority of respondents – 93 percent – believe that online hate speech and racism are a problem, including 49 percent who believe those are “very serious” problems.

The study suggested that 60 percent of Canadians believe the federal government should do more to prevent the spread of hateful and racist behaviour online. Only 17 percent do not believe so, and 23 percent are unsure.

“Hate speech and racism have always been with us, but social media platforms allow them to be disseminated under the veil of anonymity to much wider audiences,” said Mohammed Hashim, executive director of the CRRF. “The fact that most Canadians see this as a problem is all the more reason our government needs to make online hate speech regulation a policy priority.”

The poll also reveals that many Canadians are partial to several types of regulation around this problem, a statement from the CRRF said.

Nearly 80 percent of Canadians said they would support regulations to require social media companies to remove hateful or racist content from their platforms within 24 hours of its posting, the poll found.

As far as policing online hate and racist activity, about the same proportion – 79 percent of respondents – indicated they would favour regulation that would allow social media companies to inform law enforcement of perpetrators of “particularly grave acts of hate or racism online before those activities turn to violence,” the CRRF said.

“The data collected in this poll is proof that most Canadians have seen what has been happening in the United States over the last few years and are concerned with the damage that type of extremism could cause in the Canadian context,” explained Hashim. “It is also evidence that Canada is far from immune to online expressions of hate and racism.”

Millennials and Generation Z users of social media platforms, Canadians 18-29 years old, are more likely than older Canadians to have directly received or witnessed offensive name-calling, racist, sexist, homophobic comments, incitements of violence, sexual harassment, and physical threats online as they are more prone than any other demographic to engage on social media platforms daily, the poll found.

The survey indicates that racialized groups, who make up nearly 20 percent of Canada’s total population, are three times more likely to have experienced racism online than their non-racialized counterparts. This comes on the heels of police reporting a seven percent rise in hate crimes across the country in 2020.

The poll found that by a two to one margin, Canadians are “far more troubled” by the impact of online hate speech on their fellow citizens than they are with curbing freedom of speech or restrictions to personal privacy,” the CRRF said.

“While there is legislation around hate in the real world, cyberspace has not received the same level of legislative diligence,” said Hashim. “We are encouraged that Canadians appear to be willing to support a strong framework for ensuring we minimize hate and harassment – even in the darkest corners of virtual society.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it is “alarmed” by the poll’s findings.

“Like the overwhelming majority of those surveyed, we are deeply concerned and unsettled by the rise of online hate and racism in Canada,” said CIJA’s Richard Marceau in a statement.

Canadian Jews “hold the unfortunate distinction of being the most frequently targeted minority when it comes to hate crime, and we understand all too well the deadly, real-world consequences of this frightening phenomenon.”

He said CIJA has urged the federal government to adopt a national strategy to combat online hate.

“Thanks to this survey, we know there is overwhelming support regardless of political orientation, and hope that all political parties will rally together to protect Canadians from online racism and hate,” said a statement from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

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