Most kids see hate and prejudice online, and most of them say it’s important to do something about it. But whether you’ve seen a video that’s full of racist conspiracy theories or have just seen a friend share an offensive meme, it can be hard to know what to do about it.
A Guide for Trusted Adults is based on YWCA’s consultation with Canadian girls and young women about their concerns and the issues they face online and on social media platforms and the ways they want the adults in their lives to support them.
Along with images of natural disasters and violence, one all-too-common news item that can be distressing to kids is reports of hate crimes. Seeing or hearing about hate-motivated assaults and vandalism of homes, cemeteries and places of worship in media, can lead to fear and anxiety in young people, especially if they belong to a vulnerable group. In many cases, the effect will be worse because news isn’t the only place Canadian kids see hate and racism: almost half see hateful content online at least once a month, and one in six sees it every day.
The last few weeks have shed an unprecedented light on the use of digital media to spread and inspire hatred. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the perpetrator in the attacks on Canada’s National War Memorial and Parliament buildings, appears to have been motivated in part by exposure to online postings by a self-described member of the Islamic state, and the Federal government has already stated that it intends to create tools to remove online content that promotes the “proliferation of terrorism.”
Framed around key concepts of media literacy, the Facing Online Hate tutorial examines how the Internet is used to spread and incite hate, how radicalization occurs, and how youth encounter hate online both through traditional hate sites and “cultures of hatred”. The tutorial also provides strategies for building critical thinking skills in young people to help them understand the nature of online hate, how they may be targets and how to respond appropriately when bias, stereotyping and hatred are encountered online.
Bigotry, in its various forms, has been with us for a long time – at least since the Greeks coined the word “barbarian” to mean “anyone who isn’t us,” and likely longer – so it’s not surprising that racism, sexism and other prejudices have found a home on the Internet. MediaSmarts’ new report Young Canadians in a Wired World: Encountering Racist and Sexist Content Online looks at how often Canadian youth are exposed to prejudice, how it makes them feel and how they respond to it.
The Boston Marathon tragedy has raised questions about the role the Internet plays in radicalizing youth and, more generally, how it may be used to perpetuate hatred. In Canada, similar questions are being asked about the radicalization of four London Ontario students in the wake of last January’s attack on an Algerian gas plant.