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The prevalence and rapid circulation of online hate is a harsh reality in today’s digital world.
How can children, teens, youth and young adults who experience hate on the internet and social media, be empowered to safely address it?
When can and should one intervene, escalate or act on a negative or troubling post they encounter — spanning casual prejudice to racism and beyond?
A recent survey of more than 2,000 Canadian youth between 12 and 16 years old found the vast majority are hesitant to respond to online hate because they do not know how to appropriately address it.
The research was conducted by MediaSmarts, a national, not-for-profit digital and media literacy organization.
Click for video transcription
Lots to talk to you about on the subject of empowering youth when it comes to how they respond to online hate. And if they respond. So let’s start a little bit back in terms of a survey that media smarts, commissioned and deployed in 2018. Can you take us through what was the impetus for that survey of young people in Canada?
Yeah, for sure. Media smarts has been doing work in regards to young Canadians experiences with online hate for many, many years now, over 20 years. But in the years leading up to this particular survey, we were seeing a slight a significant enough rise in young people’s experiences of both witnessing and experiencing online hate that we thought it was it certainly warranted a deeper dive. So that was kind of the impetus where we needed to explore, in particular, the factors that would make them more likely to intervene and less and are less likely to intervene. So we really wanted to figure out what those motivational factors for pushing back were. So that we can inform our own work in terms of the educational content and resources that we develop, but also, you know, policy, advocacy, and of course, change within industry as well.
So we’re going to talk about those factors you mentioned in a second. But I do want to mention that more than 2000 children in Canada, were youth between 12 and 16 were surveyed. Could you tell us what were some of the more surprising findings?
Yeah, so I think the two most impactful findings, if you will, were one around empathy, and the other one around efficacy. So the empathy piece is that we found in this study, more than any other study, that young people indicated that online hate against anyone, insofar as it as they were cognizant and aware that it was impacting them, harming them or hurting their feelings, influenced their desire to want to intervene. And this is an interesting finding, because some of our previous research indicated that it was actually young people were more likely if it was a friend or family member or a neighbor or someone they knew. But in this study, we found that that anyone it didn’t, they didn’t have to have a direct connection. But just knowing that there was another person on the end of that, you know, hateful or hurtful comment or post was enough to motivate them. So that was really valuable finding. And that’s that piece around empathy that we were discovering that there was an empathy link. Again, insofar as just knowing that online hate has an impact on somebody’s life. And then the other piece was efficacy. And we heard loud and clear from those young Canadians that they won didn’t feel confident in being able to recognize when something was definitively hateful, they, for example, were questioning, you know, how do I know if this is satire or, you know, you know, meant to be a joke, as opposed to someone intending hate and harm. And so that was another really interesting finding for us, because it really flagged the need to one be able to support young people and confidently being able to say, you know, this is online hate and I need to intervene, but also dig into all of those gray areas and help them see that even if something is satirical, this could still be harmful. And we need to like figure out, walk through some of those gray areas. So again, the efficacy piece in terms of they’re feeling confident, and also feeling like they have the skills to intervene. So it’s not just about recognizing, yes, indeed, this is online hate. But then what do they do next? And again, young people were telling us for that survey, you know, they were cognizant and worried, understandably, about drawing unwanted attention to themselves. They were worried about rocking the boat with their peers, you know, what we know about preteens and teens? I mean, they care deeply about what their peers think about them. And they care deeply about maintaining that social status. So, you know, these are really important cues for us in terms of things we had to think through when we were, you know, going to build resources and tools to support young Canadians.
Now, for parents watching or listening to this, they may not fully understand the different ways that their young person at home may be exposed to hate online or casual prejudice online. Can you give us some examples of how this works?
Yeah, and I am glad you brought up the the notion of casual prejudice because I think it’s an important thing to unpack. So we decided to focus on casual prejudice in this study, because we’re in how we explain and understand casual prejudice are these, what some people consider sort of lower level, although I think it’s, you know, there’s a debate there in regards to, you know, creating hierarchies, but they are the kinds of prejudice that kind of are norm, typically normalized in the kind of communities that young people engage in. So lower levels of racism, sexism, you know, homophobia, and, and the reason why we wanted to focus here is because it is also the point at which intervention is so pivotal, because again, in young people’s the kinds of communities that they’re engaging in online, it is typically the loudest 10%. So minority of communities that are setting the kind of moral or ethical tone within those communities. And so again, demonstrating the importance of the need to push back to let young people but frankly, all of us no, no, this is not a majority consensus, this is not a majority opinion. And really flag that for users. And so, and also, hate groups tend to use these kind of entry level viewpoints or ideologies as a way to then conscript particularly young people into spaces in which more overt forms of hateful ideologies are present. So that’s why we focused on casual prejudice. And there are a whole bunch of we did provide young people with some examples in the study to help sort of situate them, you know, one example would be if a group of young people are playing game, and somebody says you’re playing like a girl, you know, that’s a an example of a casual prejudice that often is, you know, happens without comment or remark. So those were the kinds of examples we were working with. And that is one of the things that parents can look out for too. And I think cam I know will probably speak to this in more detail in a bit. But some of the resources that we’ve designed, again, are their intention and purpose is to is to ensure that young people and their parents are trusted adults in their lives, feel confident in recognizing, know what casual prejudice is.
So there’s so much in there and in what you just said, and I guess, you know, in doing research for this interview, one of the things that really struck me about the survey findings is young people expressing, as you said that they didn’t know what to do when they experienced online hate. And they also weren’t terribly confident that their parents were equipped to help them deal with that. What can you tell us about that in terms of what the survey found?
Yeah, I think, you know, one thing that I would also like to emphasize that I think it’s really important for us as parents to consider is that one of the top sort of methods of response, if you will, is to turn to parents, so preteens and teens, also very loudly and definitively said, when I’m struggling with this, I will or want to be able to turn to my parents. On the flip side, they also said, and I think my parents also struggled to know what this is and how to support me in that. So that was a big takeaway for us as well, you know, to make sure, again, that, you know, we’re creating something to support young people. But as with all of media, smarts, tools, and resources, we know that that also means we have to create the sort of foundations for, you know, educators, parents, again, those trusted adults in people’s lives, to kind of usher them and guide them through some of these challenges. So So you know, that the parent component was interesting, and so far as sometimes, you know, we get there’s a kind of stereotype that young people don’t want to talk to their parents. And of course, you know, again, that finding that young people were quite clear that no, I would do want to turn to my parents to have a conversation about this. But yes, you know, that, again, not entirely confident that their parents at the time of the study, were, you know, going to be able to provide them with adequate supports.
What would you say? And this may sound like a bit of an obvious question, but I think it’s an important one. How would you describe go about describing the consequences of not addressing online hate or casual prejudice that may be experienced on the internet? What are the consequences of that?
I think it’s profound. And I think, you know, the value of an educational approach to online hate and harm cannot be overstated. And that is because for some of the reasons I started to mention around the way in which online hates or the circulates in online communities. Part of the challenge in the online context is that we’re living in a networked you know, world and universe, such that something that happens on one platform can easily move across other platforms. So these communities are connected and hate networks use that to their advantage. And so, you know, it is pivotal, that young people and again, their network of stuff court feels confident both in recognizing online hate and also in being able to intervene. And that requires education. And often when we talk about online hate, especially in the, what’s called the countering violent extremism kind of space, all my hate is sort of our education rather, is sometimes seen as a sort of passive, reactive response. And we, in fact, firmly believe it’s a proactive response. No, we educate young young Canadians and their parents to recognize these things, we’re more likely to know, you know, again, the relationship in which things like myths and disinformation are at play around, you know, online hate and hateful ideology, as hate groups also tend to use conspiracy theories and other you know, means as a way to sort of conscript vote, folks into the movement, you know, times of uncertainty, like the pandemic we’re living through, you know, also, you know, key tactics of online or hate groups broadly. So those kinds of strategies, being able to recognize those, being able to feel confident in determining when an argument, for example, is based, in fact, all of these kinds of strategies are incredibly valuable. And again, just the value of an educational approach to tackling this problem cannot be overstated. And young people themselves have loudly, you know, demonstrated their need and their want and desire for more education and more supports.
Absolutely. I guess one of the other striking facets of this carrot is the research around how even the most basic of efforts to call out online hate could inspire others to intervene as well. Can you take us through what the research says about that?
Yeah, I think this is also an incredibly important and profound finding. No, it’s that notion that even a small kind of action can have a ripple effect. And by that, I mean, again, you know, emphasizing that even one person pushing back and flagging for that online community, this is not a consensus, this is not how everybody in this space, you know, thinks believes, and pointing to, again, are the kind of communal values that you know, ought to be upheld. And this is where, you know, industry, you know, for example, and platforms come into play, you know, platforms, you know, when part of what we did in this study actually was write a white paper for platforms based on the findings. And one of those recommendations was around setting up really clear, easy to understand community standards and values, so that the members of that space can understand when what those standards are, when they’re being, you know, broached, and more importantly, what the consequences for breaking those standards will be, again, to flag for users, you know, where the boundaries and where the lines are, because so often, especially in the online space, when we don’t have some of those same, you know, interpersonal, you know, flags or markers for us, to help us determine fact, from fiction or to read empathy, it’s incredibly important for us to have those, those supports. And it’s really, again, you know, what we found is just, even one person or a couple of people, encourages others to do the same. And this goes back to what I was saying about young people holding what their peers do to such esteem and such value. So of course, that’s going to have an impact on on their competence in terms of intervention.
So along those same lines, is there any other criteria that a young person would be motivated by to call out hate online,
I think they’re there a couple of different criteria. And then of course, feeling confident in both, you know, that they’re not going to rock the boat with their peers. Also feeling safe, that’s really important, you know, young people need to feel that they have a strategy. And so part of what we’ve done in the tool that we’ve put together, is equip them with very specific examples of how they can intervene, so that they feel safe, so that they don’t feel that they’re going to draw unwanted attention to themselves or become the victim of hate or bullying themselves. And I think some of you know, and also, again, feeling like they have that network of support, feeling like they can intervene, but also know that they have a parent network or guardian network that they can go to, to talk about this, and to talk through some of this, because, you know, one of the other things we recommend is also sometimes needing to pause and step away and consult you know, that trusted network of support before like reacting and then Yeah, some other other specific ways that we’ve tried to address that efficacy problem I was speaking about and make sure young people feel equipped with specific strategies. But yeah, we can talk about that. In terms of our of our of our intervention we’ve we’ve created.
So tell us about then how the survey findings in the survey was conducted in 2018. How those survey findings have been used since?
Yeah, thanks. It’s been really wonderful to see in particular how our work in this field has really impacted across a couple of different sectors I mentioned, you know, the work that we’ve done and the recommendations we’ve put forward to industry, we’ve also had the opportunity to mobilize this knowledge with government, we just recently last month testified before the House of Commons committee that is studying ideologically motivated, violent extremism to be able to bring that young person in perspective to the table. And then I think the most important and valuable thing we’ve done is, through some additional funding from Public Safety Canada, is to create this online interactive platform for young people and a trusted adults in their lives. It is it is a wonderful tool that has a whole suite of educational resources and guides, some lesson plans for educators who are in the classroom. And it’s a platform that walks young people through a couple of different, what we call them sort of spokes, or poor places with the platform. The first is, is where they get that sense of you know, what is online hate? And how do I recognize it. So again, addressing that kind of knowledge piece and building confidence. There’s also a story platform where they can share their experiences and hear from the experiences of others. Part of this platform includes sort of some findings from the survey that are updated with real time questions. So the same questions been asked to folks in students who are interacting on the platform and then automatically updates, so to keep some of those findings as accurate and up to date as possible. And then, of course, as I’ve been mentioning, you know, there’s this opportunity for them to, to kind of explore instances in which they they would encounter hate and how they would push back. So there are quizzes, there are all kinds of strategies and scenarios that they can walk through and run runs them through. There’s a meme, meme maker at the end, where they get to create their own memes as a way to push back against online hate. Because one of the things that we found both in the study and in some subsequent research was that one using humor, but also responding in a way that deflect attention away from the either the commenter or the actor themselves, but focuses on on a piece of content is is again, a helpful strategies that was that’s just one tangible way. And so they get to play with that meme maker, as a way in which to do that. Again, telling stories, building that empathy piece, sharing those stories, building a library of their experiences, and then some other just again, walking through those situations and scenarios where they can, in a safe space, you know, explore different means and methods for for intervening.
So the platform is called My voice is louder than hate. And it was released by media smarts in May of 2022. So on that note, Kara, can you tell us some tips as to what a child or youth should do when they encounter hate online?
Yeah, so, you know, one of the one of the important things, although we did hear some varying opinions, in terms of the success is to report it, when and where you can, it’s not a perfect system, but it is important for us to hold platforms accountable. So do use those reporting channels, and to be as specific as you can, if you can take screenshots, for example, if you’re being targeted with a racist or sexist or, you know, otherwise hateful comments, you know, to do that, as well and create, you know, a bit of a log of that for yourself. But also, again, there are different contexts. So in some cases, you know, if you’re looking if we’re talking about a piece of content that somebody shared, again, the strategy is to try to deescalate the situation by not drawing attention to the to the actor or the person who shared the content, but to the content itself. We also recommend respond or intervening in the form of a question, have you thought about acts? Have you thought about how this might make, you know, a person feel, have you? And also again, through empathy, drawing on experience, even if it’s not your own? You know, I had a neighbor who’s told me that something similar like this impacted them this way, as a suggestion for them to consider a different viewpoint And again, drawing attention to that content rather than, rather than the person we have found. It tends to elicit, you know, the kind of response in which somebody is more reflective than defensive. We’ve also heard really loudly from young people that they prefer that one of the preferred methods is to engage with a person, one on one in a direct message. So take it off the platform, text message, DM, and typically, they will reach out to a person who, especially if they think there’s a friend or someone they’re connected with, who might have been harmed, or hurt, and just to check up on them as well.
Those are really great tips. And And I’m curious, you know, we’re talking about kids 12 to 16. And certainly older than that, and younger than that, in many cases. But what do you suggest a parent do in that situation, because on the one hand, you want to allow your child the freedom to figure some of this stuff out on their own, but you always also want it to be age appropriate. And some of this, you know, can be beyond maybe their scope of understanding. So how would you characterize what a parent’s role in flagging and addressing online hate as it relates to their child should be?
I think, first and foremost, the important thing that I would emphasize is open communication from as a young age as possible. Like even pre sort of the age in which we might think a young person is engaging on social media, for example, or gaming, it’s important to have these kinds of conversations with your children. So they feel confident that if they do stumble across something that is inappropriate, or hateful, they’ve got you know, the confidence that they can come and have a conversation, that sort of judgment free conversation, you know, that is, you know, the kind of bedrock. And then the other thing I would say is, again, you know, emphasizing the need to have these conversations at a really young age, certainly in an age appropriate way. But again, you know, this is an opportunity for families to build, you know, rules and patterns of behavior that are meaningful to them. And one of the things that our research has found is that young people, especially preteens and teens, are more likely to follow household rules, if they feel that they’ve been designed organically and in a way that includes them. So if they feel they’re kind of being imposed from a top down model, you’re less likely to take them up. But if they feel like this is a conversation that they have been a part of, and that it is a reflection of your values, as a family, you know, sort of in how you behave in your everyday life, both offline and online, then these are things that are like respecting people, you know, those are kind of values that you owe to uphold as a family that, of course, we would expect as parents are upheld in the online context as well, again, setting those kinds of foundations, so that when they do encounter, you know, these kinds of situations, they again, feel they can come and speak to parents about it. And I can’t emphasize enough how we as parents have to be good role models. One of the things we heard of this study, in particular, that was to be honest, not not necessarily shocking, but disappointing was how young people were saying, in terms of the perpetrators of online hate, we heard loud and clear, this is adults behaving badly, this is not necessarily other young people, this is my, you know, adult neighbor and, you know, distant family, relative and so on. So it really flagged for us again, the need to emphasize No, sometimes what we do speak louder than what we say. And so, you know, we have to practice these kinds of behaviors ourselves, we have to demonstrate ethical digital citizenship, we have to demonstrate, you know, how we have, you know, healthy, meaningful debate, but debate that is, you know, first and foremost respecting, you know, the the humanity of everybody. And so, yeah, it starts with us, it really does start, you know, with us as parents and knowing that our kids are, are watching everything we do.
That’s an incredibly powerful point to end on. The platform is called My voice is louder than hate. Released by media smarts. And our guest has been Kara Brisson-Boivin, director of research at media smarts. Thank you so much for your time and your insight today.
Thanks for having me.
Lianne Castelino of Where Parents Talk spoke to the MediaSmarts’ Director of Research, Kara Brisson-Boivin about the survey, its findings, strategies for parents and children, and newly developed tools for young people to push back again online hate.
Brisson-Boivin is also an adjunct Research Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University, and a mother of two.
Here is an excerpt of the video and podcast interview:
How would you describe go about describing the consequences of not addressing online hate or casual prejudice that may be experienced on the internet?
I think it’s profound. The value of an educational approach to online hate and harm cannot be overstated. Part of the challenge in the online context is that we’re living in a networked world and universe, such that something that happens on one platform can easily move across other platforms. So these communities are connected and hate networks use that to their advantage. It is pivotal that young people and their network feel confident both in recognizing online hate and also in being able to intervene. And that requires education.
Can you give us some examples of how online casual prejudice works?
We decided to focus on casual prejudice in this study. They are the kinds of prejudice that kind of typically normalized in the kind of communities that young people engage in. So lower levels of racism, sexism, homophobia, and the reason why we wanted to focus here is because it is also the point at which intervention is so pivotal, because again, in young people, the kinds of communities that they’re engaging in online, it is typically the loudest 10%. And so, hate groups tend to use these kinds of entry level viewpoints or ideologies as a way to then conscript particularly young people into spaces in which more overt forms of hateful ideologies are present. That’s why we focused on casual prejudice.
What are some simple strategies youth can employ to respond to online hate?
It is important for us to hold platforms accountable. So do use those reporting channels, and be as specific as you can. If you can take screenshots, for example, if you’re being targeted with a racist or sexist or otherwise hateful comments, to do that, as well and create, a bit of a log of that for yourself. But also, there are different contexts. So in some cases, if we’re talking about a piece of content that somebody shared, the strategy is to try to deescalate the situation by not drawing attention to the actor or the person who shared the content, but to the content itself. We also recommend responding or intervening in the form of a question. Have you thought about acts? Have you thought about how this might make a person feel? Through empathy, drawing on experience, even if it’s not your own.
During her interview with Where Parents Talk, Kara Brisson-Boivin, Director of Research at MediaSmarts also discusses:
• national youth survey findings
• faces of online hate and casual prejudice
• new digital tools and resources for youth to call out online hate
Watch or listen to the full interview.
Carleton.ca (Kara Brisson-Boivin)