Jan: Four Ways Ordinary Citizens Can Help Confront Hate Online

Each of us has a role to play, but many people do not know how to intervene effectively. Here are some tips:


Statistics Canada recently reported an increase of 72 percent in hate crimes in the last two years. Hate threatens the health and well-being of everyone in our community, not just those directly affected.

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online spaces and pandemic social isolation helped hate movements targeting racial minorities, religious groups, the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and others find their way onto political platforms, mainstream media, and interpersonal interactions. Online hate breeds quickly, lasts a long time, and is difficult for law enforcement to address due to a lack of regulations.

Online hate has the potential to inspire violent acts, such as the Islamophobic attack on a Muslim family in LondonOntario or the misogynist terrorist van attack in Toronto, incidents that sow division, prevent people from reaching their full potential and destroy community safety.

Each of us has a role to play in confronting hate online, but many people I do not know how to intervene effectively. Here are four things each of us can do to prevent the people in our lives from being sucked into dangerous online communities:

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• Cultivate spaces where young people can question their own beliefs and worldviews and those of others with dignity and compassion.

Trusted adults can help youth use social media and research sources from different perspectives to build their confidence in critical thinking and informed decision-making.

• Encourage digital literacy to empower people to identify misinformation, echo chambers, and algorithms that distort their ability to engage constructively online.

We must ask questions like: who published this information and why? What is the source of your information? What views or facts are missing? What approaches did they use to get my attention?

MediaSmarts has tools for educators, such as My voice is stronger than hatethat empower young people to identify what hate looks like and reject it online.

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• Treat others and yourself with compassion. Whenever possible, be a connection to those close to you who may have started hearing hate and conspiracy theories online.

People who get involved with hateful ideologies or conspiracy theories are often looking for answers to their fears. Instead of trying to “prove them wrong”, ask questions, discuss your own fears with them, and connect on a human level. Where relationships exist, try to stay connected. This will ensure that there is someone to go to in case that person wants to make a change.

• Support an anti-hate narrative throughout the community. When hate happens, we must denounce it. Pushing back hate prevents it from infiltrating the mainstream and strengthens community cohesion.

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Steadfast resistance to hate is also essential to offer solidarity to those affected by it. united for all is an example of a coalition that brings together more than 150 local organizations to fight against violence based on hate, racism and extremism.
Strengthen our social safety net with better support systems for victims of hate and with initiatives that combat extremism, such as Exit-Deutschland program in Germany and Prevent in the UK – is essential to addressing the issue of hate.

Hate speech, hate crimes, and extremism are defined differently across communities, making it difficult to address the issue in a consistent manner. We need common policies and regulations, free from political ideology, to identify and address the threat of hate online.

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Trust in public institutions it is at an all-time low, and continued mistrust of government and law enforcement strengthens extremist movements by empowering them to mobilize people who are disillusioned by systems of power. It is essential that public institutions recover the trust of the communities to avoid further damage.

All this requires the collaboration and commitment of governments, institutions and the community. The social fabric of our communities depends on it.

Each of us has a role to play in dealing with hate. We cannot afford to wait for governments to step in when our communities have so much power to build resilience and find common ground. Let’s take care of each other.

abid january is the Director of Capacity Development for United Way East Ontario. United Way leads United for All, a coalition of partners committed to overcoming hate-based violence, racism and extremism.

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