Combatting online hate

Back in late 2006, in one of my first year blog posts, I wrote “The 11 hallmarks of hate messages”, describing a determination by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that included a listing of what it called “hallmarks of material that is more likely than not to expose members of the targeted group to hatred or contempt.” Nearly 15 years later, that post continues to attract visits.

Canada has taken a leading role among its international peers in trying to deal with the certain human rights abuses, as home to the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights in Montreal and the Digital Inclusion Lab at Global Affairs Canada, with G7 leadership emerging from the Charlevoix G7 Summit in 2018.

Last week, Canada’s consulates in San Francisco and Los Angeles co-sponsored an event with AJC, “Combatting Hate & Discrimination in Digital Spaces”.

There were a couple interesting handouts from the webinar that I thought would be worthwhile highlighting.

  • A report brief by Priya Kumar from the Digital Inclusion Lab looked at Online Antisemitism in the COVID-19 Context [pdf, 1.2MB], with findings that included “Exptremist voices have been using both mainstream social media and smaller fringe social media to spread antisemitic views, using the COVID-19 context and hateful visual imagery online to strategically reach wider audiences.

    “This report seeks to inform foreign policy with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, including protecting and promoting human rights, inclusive governance and democracy as well as an open, free and secure internet.”

  • Holly Huffnagle presented AJC’s Translate Hate Glossary [pdf, 5.3MB] looking at antisemitic terms, themes, and memes. According to AJC, the Translate Hate Glossary was created to improve media literacy on antisemitism and hate, offering a comprehensive list of terms and expressions to help recognize antisemitism and the global effort to fight and eliminate it.

Recall that last year, I wrote about terminology in Ministerial mandate letters (“Free from online discrimination”), for the Ministers of Industry, Heritage and Justice to work together to establish a set of “online rights” including “the ability to be free from online discrimination including bias and harassment.” I asked at that time:

What does it mean “to be free from online discrimination including bias”? Simply having a bias isn’t illegal and it should not be. We all have certain biases, frequently expressed through the newspapers we read or the political parties we favour. Commission of a criminal offence motivated by bias is a consideration for sentencing, but do we (or should we) have an “ability to be free from online bias”?

According to AJC, nearly 1 in 5 (19%) American Jews reported being the target of antisemitism on an online social media platform. About half (46%) said the platform didn’t take any steps.

What does it mean to be free from online discrimination including bias? What responsibilities should tech platforms have for illegal content being distributed? What actions should tech platforms be taking? What legislative framework is appropriate?

How do we recognize hate? And what are the appropriate responses to it, in view of preserving “an open, free and secure internet”?

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