Let’s Talk about Online Hate

December 6, 2022

For most youth today, the internet has become essential to their everyday lives. It is the go-to source for information, socializing and entertainment and provides numerous opportunities for learning, communication and exploration.

However, as youth spend more and more time online, they are being exposed to increased levels of online hate, such as cyberbullying and hate speech. These forms of online hate can have significant negative impacts on youth, including feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression and an increased risk of self-harm or suicide. Most concerning is that threats to a young person’s online security can profoundly impact their willingness to use and participate in digital spaces – which we know play a fundamental role in their future.

Who’s most at risk?

While anyone online can fall victim to online hate, more and more research is shedding light on the role race, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, age and religion play in exacerbating online abuse and harassment cases. A recent study from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation shows that people from racialized communities in Canada are three times more likely to experience online hate (CRRF, 2021). There is also concern about gender-based online hate and the rise in online threats towards LGBTQ2S+ communities in Canada. For example, 44% of women and gender-diverse people aged 16-30 in Canada report having been personally targeted by hate speech online, and 83%  considered hate speech a problem (YMCA Canada, 2022). Needless to say, the effects of online hate are even greater for people who face multiple forms of discrimination.

What is Actua doing about it?

Actua believes youth should feel empowered, not afraid, when online and that learning how to become an empowered digital citizen – the ability to navigate digital environments safely and responsibly and respect others in the space – begins as soon as a child has a device in their hands. It is critical to the future of our digital world that all youth understand how to critically assess online interactions, be proactive about online threats and use technology in healthy and safe ways. 

For the past two years, Actua’s Cyber Smart Project (Engage. Empower. Connect – E2C) has been building positive digital learning experiences for youth to feel empowered online. This project challenges the fear and deficit-based approach often used when teaching this content by leveraging empowering and asset-based language and examples. Through hands-on educational workshops and clubs delivered by our network members, youth participating in our cyber smart programming are equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to:

  • Be empowered digital citizens
  • Create positive, inclusive spaces both online and offline 
  • Make smart and informed decisions when using technology 
  • Encourage proactive and self-driven formation of online identities 
  • Identify media bias and misinformation 

And this is only the beginning. Over the next year, Actua will continue adapting and transforming our cyber smart programming based on lessons learned from pilot programs and newly emerging threats. Addressing online hate is, and will continue to be, a significant focus of our cyber smart programming.

What can YOU do about it?

As parents and educators, it’s impossible to know everything your child is experiencing and participating in online. However, it is possible (and our responsibility) to help our children learn the skills to recognize and understand online hate and respond appropriately when encountering it. Below is a list of related resources and activities to help you do this:

Actua Activities

Tips for Youth

Youth who may be experiencing online hate can:

  • Report the account/incident to the website, app or service that hosts the content (Note: All social media applications have a method by which you can anonymously report an account, so the person who owns the account won’t know you reported them)
  • Tell a trusted adult (parent, guardian, teacher),
  • Ignore, block or mute the person and do not respond
  • Take a screenshot to save and collect evidence
  • Ensure you have privacy settings on all of your accounts

If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs emotional support, you can:

Actua’s Cyber Smart Educator Handbook

This handbook is designed to support educators in facilitating the E2C activities series in their classroom by providing background information and insight from experts.

Check it out