Canadians Among Most Active in Online Racism: Report

A sobering new study says Canada is home to some of the most active online white supremacists in the world.

Typing on a computer keyboard.

Image via Getty/Thomas Trutschel

Typing on a computer keyboard.

If you think that deep-rooted systemic racism isn’t as bad in Canada, this new report will have you thinking again. Not only is racism alive here, but our nation has some of the most active online white supremacists in the world.

Let that sink in for a minute as you ponder your entire national identity.

Global acts of terrorism by far-right groups have risen 320 percent in the last five years, while in Canada hate groups have increase three-fold, according to new findings by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a global think tank that studies extremist behaviour and hate groups.

More than 11 million users across seven different social media platforms⁠—including 130 public Facebook groups, 6,352 Twitter accounts, 32 YouTube channels, and boards on 4chan⁠—were investigated. 

Researchers found a “well-established, extreme right ecosystem” in Canada with many of those citizens involved heavily active on websites specifically used to discuss white supremacy. For example, on 4chan’s ‘/pol’ board, Canadians make up the third most active national user group, trailing behind only the U.S. and the UK.

The fact that white supremacy exists in Canada doesn’t surprise Jacob Davey, who co-authored the report and is the Senior Research Manager at ISD. But the number of Canadians participating in these racist groups and conversations does.

“When population size [for each country] is taken into account, we found that proportionally Canadians were more represented. This would suggest that when it comes to the right-wing extremism online, Canada is up there,” Davey told Complex Canada.

White supremacy and extremist behaviour growing

There’s been a rise in right-wing extremism in recent years. Davey says there are three factors that have contributed to its growth. First, there are the mainstream social giants that have been slow to respond to hate speech and racist content.

“There was a period of several years when social media companies were really not in tune to the threat posed by these communities. This meant these communities were able to connect with one another, and promote their hateful ideology pretty much unchecked,” he says. “Although there have been some important policy shifts over the last couple of years, I really don’t think we can underestimate the impact this had.”

Hate groups are also thinking bigger, looking to other countries for inspiration and to collaboration. This is dangerous in that it strengthens numbers and creates a cohesive ideology, says Davey. 

Then there’s the rise of right-wing nationalism, and certain countries are worse than others. 

“Our research has highlighted how these politicians often explicitly and implicitly give voice to extremist talking points, and that helps embolden extremist groups,” he says.

It could get worse before it gets better

You might think the BLM rallies and increased conversations and awareness around BIPOC systemic racism and allyship would make active nationalists recoil, but it’s actually been the opposite. Davey calls it a “lightning rod” effect for right-wing extremists globally. 

“By bringing essential discussions around justice and institutionalized racism to the forefront, these protests have had the knock-on effect that right-wing extremists double down on their racism and hatred,” he says. “Through our research we have seen signs that right-wing extremists are using these protests as an opportunity to advance hatred against Black people.”

Davey also points out that it’s not all bad, though. Action to dismantle extremist groups is ongoing, like adding neo-Nazi groups Combat 18 and Blood and Honour (both of which have ties to Canada) to terrorist organizations lists. But Canada still has a long way to go.

“This research has shown that right-wing extremism is clearly present in Canada, and that there is work to do in countering these groups, which seek to polarize Canadian society and target minority Canadians,” says Davey. “It is essential that momentum isn’t lost as solutions to right-wing extremism are sought.”

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