Almost half of Canadian youth say they see racist or sexist content online often

New research conducted during the pandemic by MediaSmarts found almost half of Canadian youth (47%) ages 12 to 17 see racist or sexist content online at least once a week.

These findings are shared in MediaSmarts’ new Encountering Harmful and Discomforting Content Online report, which is the second in a series of reports in the latest phase of Young Canadians in a Wireless World, a national survey of 1,058 youth ages 9 to 17 conducted in Autumn 2021.

This report shares how often youth come across content that is harmful or makes them feel uncomfortable, in which online spaces they most often see it, and how they respond to it. The study found that:

  • Both LGBTQ+ youth and youth with a disability are more likely to see racist and sexist content.
  • 88% of youth agree it’s important to speak up about racist and sexist content, but 58% feel they don’t know what to say.
  • 81% of youth agree that tech companies should do more to stop racist and sexist content from being posted or shared online.
  • Youth respond to receiving discomforting content online by telling a parent/guardian (57%), blocking the person who sent it (55%) or telling a friend (23%).
  • More youth say they try to avoid seeing pornography (42%) than those that have looked for it online (22%). Most said they were nine or older when they first looked for pornography online
  • 32% say they’ve seen pornography online without looking for it because:  it popped up on websites they visit (60%); they saw it on search engines (31%); or friends shared it (24%).
  • Participants with a household rule about treating people with respect are more likely to agree that it is important to speak out when they encounter racist and sexist content online.

More findings are available here.

“This new research shows that while youth want to speak out and learn more about how to recognize and respond to harmful and hateful content online, there is a continued lack of knowledge and confidence to do so in ways that are safe and effective,” says Dr. Kara Brisson-Boivin, Director of Research at MediaSmarts.

Encountering Harmful and Discomforting Content Online is part of Young Canadians in a Wireless World (YCWW), Canada’s longest running and most comprehensive research study on young people’s attitudes, behaviour and opinions regarding the internet, technology and digital media. Reports based on the Phase IV data are being released from November 2022 to June 2023 on topics including Life Online (released November 2022), Privacy, Online Meanness and Cruelty, Sexting and Digital Media Literacy.

Phase IV of the Young Canadians in a Wireless World study was possible thanks to funding from CIRA.

MediaSmarts is Canada’s charitable centre for digital media literacy. For over 27 years, MediaSmarts has advanced digital media literacy in Canadian schools, homes and communities.

Tricia Grant, Director of Marketing and Communications
613-224-7721 ext. 231