Online Hate

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For all that the Internet can offer us, it sometimes offers a platform for promoting hatred and violence. In this section, we cover what online hate means, what Canadian law says about it, and how young people and adults can respond to it while keeping in mind Canada’s position on freedom of expression.

The Internet has been rightly hailed as a groundbreaking interactive marketplace of ideas where anyone with the right hardware and software can set up a cyber-stall. It has become an essential means for people to access information and services but the downside of this unparalleled information exchange is that, alongside its many valuable resources, the Net also offers a host of offensive materials – including hateful content – that attempt to inflame public opinion against certain groups of people.

It is not always easy to discern when hateful content on the Internet crosses the line from being offensive to illegal. The line between hate speech and free speech is a thin one, and different countries have different levels of tolerance. The line is even thinner in digital environments where hateful comments posted lawfully in one country can be read in other countries where they may be deemed unlawful.

Traditional government responses to online hate have been to police cyberspace as an extension of the state’s territory, ignoring the online/offline divide.

Radicalization refers to the process by which people come to believe that violence against others and even oneself is justified in defense of their own group. Not everyone who is involved in a group is necessarily radicalized to the same degree; in fact, even within a hate group only a small number of people may be radicalized to the point where they are ready to advocate and commit violence.

The Internet has become a prime means of communication worldwide and this unprecedented global reach – combined with the difficulty in tracking communications – makes it an ideal tool for extremists to repackage old hatred, raise funds, and recruit members. As the Internet has grown, the quantity and sophistication of extremist websites has increased proportionately.

Fong [1], Guichard [2] and Hope [3], among others, have pointed out that current protocols for dealing with online hate have proven inadequate at managing hateful content and providing educational opportunities, largely because they have failed in adequately capturing the broad scope and complicated, disputed nature of online hate. Criminal legislation and formal policies have had limited success in addressing the complex issues related to crime in an online context and hate crime in general.

The Responding to Online Hate guide assists law enforcement personnel, community groups and educators in recognizing and countering hateful content on the Internet – especially as it pertains to youth.

Diversity in Media Toolbox

The Diversity and Media Toolbox is a comprehensive suite of resources that explores issues relating to stereotyping, bias and hate in mainstream media and on the Internet. The program includes professional development tutorials, lesson plans, interactive student modules and background articles.

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