Resource teaches teens to fight back against online hate
Fueled by online trolls, fanatics, disinformation, and casual prejudice, hate speech is all over the internet. Whether searching for music, taking part in online learning, or participating in virtual chat rooms, youth are often confronted with the digital world’s uglier side of harassment, sexism, racism, and other hateful content.
In spring 2022, MediaSmarts, a national non-profit centre for digital and media literacy, launched a new resource to help teens recognize and confront online hate. My Voice is Louder Than Hate uses digital storytelling and meme-making tools to encourage youth to respond to prejudice online — whether it’s directed at them or others.
Aimed at youth in grades Grade 9 to 12, the multimedia platform describes how others have pushed back against online hate, shares how to respond in different situations, and allows teens to express their thoughts and experiences. Using various tools, students combine images, text, music and narration to make digital stories and memes, and students are shown how they can best respond to prejudice.
“As digital citizens, we all have a role to play in shaping the norms of our online spaces, and that includes pushing back when we see hate and prejudice,” said Kathryn Ann Hill, Executive Director of MediaSmarts. “We want to help youth feel empowered online and give educators the tools to help students learn how to respond when they see people or groups being targeted in this way.”
Hate thrives online
According to research conducted by MediaSmarts in 2019, youth’s exposure to online hate and casual prejudice — such as racist memes, derogatory comments about those with disabilities, or xenophobic images that aren’t targeted at a specific person — was common, yet many said they do not respond because they don’t know what to do to make a difference.
The online survey of more than 1,000 youth ages 12 to 16 from across Canada, was designed to delve into the respondent’s mindset and personal experiences with casual prejudice or ‘cultures of hatred’ online. The survey also explored the motivations and outside influences that affected youth’s decisions on whether or not to push back.
The results showed that while the majority felt it was important to speak up when witnessing hate online, many were reluctant because they didn’t know what to do and they didn’t feel the adults in their lives were able to help them. The adolescents also shared that they were unsure what to do about the more indirect forms of casual prejudice they encountered on a regular basis.
Of the online social networks, messaging apps and video sharing sites, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube were established as the top five most consistently reported platforms where youth observed and engaged in casual prejudice. One hundred percent of the youth who used Facebook reported having seen hate on their news feed at some point, and more than 50 per cent didn’t act because they didn’t know what course of action to take or were afraid of making things worse.
Tools for educators and parents
Funded by Public Safety Canada’s Community Resilience Fund, the online multimedia platform is geared towards the classroom and offers two lesson plans as well as a training workshop and a guide to prepare teachers to deliver the lessons and deal with difficult conversations.
“In this digital age, it is imperative that we provide our young Canadians with the tools and language needed to stand up against any form of hatred online,” said Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety. “Public Safety Canada is pleased to invest in a project that will provide our educators with the appropriate and effective training materials and classroom resources to equip our youth with the tools they need to keep their online community safe.”
Parents and guardians can also help their children feel empowered to push back against online hate in safe ways. Young Canadians told researchers that talking with their parents/guardians was the second most popular way of dealing with casual prejudice. Youth want a trusted adult in their life “who will be open to discussing their experiences of online casual prejudice in non-judgmental and non-confrontational ways.” The youth also emphasized how they look up to the adults in their lives to model healthy debate and ethical digital citizenship.
MediaSmarts encourages parents and guardians to talk to their children about the different ways they can contribute to a positive online environment by pushing back when they encounter hate online. MediaSmarts has tip sheets and guides available to help parents navigate these sometimes difficult conversations.
For more information, visit mediasmarts.ca.