Study finds only 10% of Canadian youth intervene when they see hate online

Platforms and parents both have critical roles to play in changing cultures of hatred for young people online

OTTAWA, May 29, 2019 – While Canadian youth think it’s important to speak up when they see hate online, only 10% frequently do so, according to a new research study conducted by MediaSmarts, Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy.

The national survey of 1,000 young Canadians ages 12 to 16 examined youth attitudes and experiences with casual prejudice on online platforms– from anti-gay slurs in gaming communities to racist memes on social media.  

The youth surveyed said they mostly don’t respond because they don’t know what to do to make a difference, and 70% said they would be more likely to push back if platforms had clear rules and tools to report the behaviour.

“I don’t think saying anything online will make a difference,” said one respondent. Another wrote: “It is hard to take a stand. I feel immediately isolated.”
When youth did respond to hate online, their top two preferred methods were to:

  • block or stop communicating with the person responsible, or  
  • talk to their parents

 “The more youth feel empowered to speak out against hate online, the more others will follow suit,” says Dr. Kara Brisson-Boivin, Director of Research at MediaSmarts. “Conversely, when it goes unchallenged, young people may believe that they are overreacting when they intervene, making it harder to speak out. It’s a vicious cycle. The good news is that it can be turned into a virtuous cycle with the right tools and education.”

Funded by Public Safety Canada’s Community Resilience Fund, the research reinforces that parents and educators need to be prepared to support youth in pushing back against casual prejudice online in safe and respectful ways. It also shows that platforms need to provide users with clear rules of conduct and youth-friendly reporting tools.

The study found that:

Youth are impacted by hate online

  • Most youth have seen casual prejudice online at least sometimes
  • 70% said it hurts their feelings, and 80% said it’s important to do something in response
  • Casual prejudice happens more frequently than adults think. One respondent explained, “I don’t think adults truly know how much this hurts children”

Youth experience casual prejudice on the platforms they use regularly

  • Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube were the top five most consistently reported platforms where youth witness and engage in casual prejudice
  • 100% of youth who use Facebook have seen hate on their feed at some point 

Youth are influenced by their peers when deciding how to react

  • They were more likely to intervene if someone they knew told them it hurt their feelings (70%), someone else spoke out first (60%), or they thought most people agreed with them (60%)

Trusted adults and educators can make a difference

  • Talking to parents/guardians was the second most popular course of action when dealing with hate online
  • Youth look up to adults to model healthy debate and ethical digital citizenship, and have seen adults engaging in prejudice online: “Adults do it too and kids see that as an example”
  • One respondent said: “I wish we learned more about casual prejudice in school… I don’t think most teenagers know they are being prejudiced with the things they say online”

 “This research provides much needed insights on how youth experience cultures of hate online, and it does so through first-hand accounts,” says Dr. Brisson-Boivin. “The results of this study are a call to action for parents, educators, policymakers and platform developers to empower Canadian youth to push back against hate online.”

“Young people have the power to change internet culture by speaking out against hate when they see it,” says the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, “The Government of Canada is proud to support research into the online experiences of young Canadians, which helps build the evidence we need to help youth prevent and confront the spread of hate and violence on the internet.”

MediaSmarts has developed a list of recommendations for platforms, available here.

More information and the full research report are available here.

Parents are encouraged to talk to their children about ways they can contribute to a positive online environment by pushing back when they encounter hate online. MediaSmarts has tip sheets and guides available on their website to help parents navigate these conversations.

About MediaSmarts

MediaSmarts is the national, bilingual, not-for-profit centre for digital and media literacy. For the past 25 years MediaSmarts has advanced digital and media literacy in Canadian schools, homes and communities, delivered high-quality digital and media literacy programs and resources, and conducted vital research that contributes to the development of informed public policy on issues related to media.


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