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Online Hate

Key findings

[Ottawa – March 23, 2021] EKOS Research Associates conducted a Canada-wide interactive voice response (IVR) poll of 1,230 Canadians, 18 years of age or older for the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. The survey was conducted to gauge how big of a problem Canadians believe online hate is in Canada, and the support for different types of anti-hate regulations on social media platforms.

Summary of results

Canadians of all stripes overwhelmingly support the federal government introducing measures to combat hateful and racist content and behaviour online. Canadians support stronger laws to hold perpetrators accountable for what they do online, they support the creation of an independent oversight body to make sure social media companies follow the law, they support requiring companies to remove users who repeatedly share racist or hateful content, to hold companies accountable for what’s on their platforms, and they support requiring companies to promptly remove racist or hateful content. While support for these measures is strongest among Liberal, New Democratic and Green Party supporters, a majority of Conservatives support these measures as well. What’s more, support for these measures is higher among those demographics most likely to vote, namely those over 50 years old, those with university educations and women.

Four-in-ten (38%) Canadians have either experienced or seen online hate or racism in the last few months. Half (19% of all Canadians) of these Canadians have experienced hate or racism online and the other half (also 19%) have just seen it. Over half of Canadians (55%, or 59% including those who state they do not use the internet) have not experienced any hate or racism online. Two-thirds (66%) of New Democratic Party supporters have experienced or seen hate or racism online, 47% of Green Party supporters and 43% of Liberals. Conservatives are particularly unlikely to have experienced hate or racism online, as only one-quarter (24%) indicate they have. Almost half of British Columbians (44%) and Ontarians (43%) have experienced or seen racism online, while Quebecers are particularly unlikely to have seen or experienced it, with just one quarter (27%) indicating they have. Almost half of women (43%) have, compared to just one-third (33%) of men, while younger Canadians are much more likely to have seen or experienced online hate or racism than older Canadians. Education is also a driver of whether or not people have seen or experienced hate or racism online; nearly half (44%) of university educated Canadians have, compared to just one-third (31%) of Canadians who have a high school education or less.

While most Canadians have neither seen nor experienced hate or racism online, half (49%) believe it is a large problem, and only one-quarter (26%) believe it’s not really a problem. A significant number of Greens (75%), New Democrats (64%) and Liberals (54%) believe it’s a large problem, but fewer than three-in-ten (28%) Conservatives believe it’s a large problem. Quebecers may not be likely to have seen or experienced hate or racism online, but out of all regions, they are the most likely to believe it’s a large problem, with 57% of Quebecers thinking it is. People on the Prairies (Saskatchewan and Manitoba) and in Atlantic Canada are the least likely to think it’s a big problem, with only one-third (33%) of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and just 38% of Atlantic Canadians saying it is. In general, most groups that are more likely to have seen or experienced hate or racism online again are also likely to think it’s a large problem. Over half of women (54%) think online hate and racism is a large problem compared to just 44% of men. Over half of Canadians under 35 (55%) think it’s a problem compared to 42% of seniors, and 56% of university educated Canadians believe online it’s a large problem compared to just 41% of those with a high school education or less.

About three-quarters of Canadians support some sort of measure to curb racism and hate on social media platforms. Canadians are most supportive of strengthening laws to hold perpetrators accountable for what they say, share, and do online, with 79% supporting that measure. The next most popular measure is creating an independent oversight body to make sure large social platforms are following the law (73% support), followed by requiring social media companies to remove users who repeatedly share racist or hateful content on their platforms (72%), then “strengthen laws to hold social media companies accountable for what appears on their platforms (71%), and finally “require social media companies to remove racist or hateful content within 24 or 48 hours of it being posted, or face fines,” not far behind at 70%. On all measures, both Liberals and New Democrats are significantly more likely to support government intervention to stop hate and racism, while Conservatives are less likely. However, a majority of Conservatives do support all of these measures. Across most of these proposed regulations, support is generally strongest in Quebec, and lowest on the Prairies, higher among women compared to men, higher among Canadians over 50, and higher with university educated Canadians.

When Canadians are given the argument that rules against online hate are an infringement upon the public’s right to free speech, they are very much divided. After hearing the argument that “critics of online hate legislation say that rules against online hate are an attack on free speech and that social media companies will remove legitimate content to avoid being fined”, an equal amount (39%) of Canadians agree that these rules would infringe upon freedom of speech as those who disagree (40%). Conservatives and college educated Canadians are significantly the most likely to agree with half (50%) of Tories agreeing and almost half (46%) of college educated Canadians. Groups significantly more likely to disagree include New Democrats (49% disagree), Liberals (46%), 50-64 year olds (46%), and university educated Canadians (45%).

When Canadians are given the contrary argument that “proponents of online hate legislation say that racism, harassment, and threats make it harder for women, people of colour and others to use their free speech and that removing hate speech from social media is good for everyone’s free speech because it protects the free speech of the public from those with hateful or racist views,” half (51%) agree that these rules would protect the public’s right to free speech, compared to just 28% who disagree. Liberals (64%), Greens (61%) and New Democrats (59%) are significantly more likely to agree, as well as Ontarians (54%), women (58%), seniors (56%) and both college and university educated Canadians (55% of each). Nearly half (45%) of Conservatives disagree however, as do many Albertans (39%), men (34%), and Canadians under 35 (35%).

About one-in-five (22%) Canadians agree with both of those arguments, suggesting that the second argument that removing hate speech from social media is good for everyone’s free speech is persuasive to those people. A further one-in-five (21%) Canadians disagree with the first argument, and agree with the second, 12% agree with the first statement and disagree with the second, and 12% disagree with both statements, suggesting the second argument is dissuasive to those people. Liberals (27%), seniors (31%), and college educated Canadians (27%) are significantly more likely to agree with both statements, while Conservatives, (18%), men (15%), and Canadians with a high school education or less (19%) are significantly more likely to disagree with both statements.

Methodology:

Each survey was conducted using EKOS Research Associate’s interactive voice response (IVR) platform, wherein respondents enter their preferences by punching the keypad on their phone, rather than by speaking to an operator. The survey sample was randomly selected and was drawn from all provinces and territories, and was available to all respondents in either English or French. The survey sample relied on a dual landline/cell phone RDD sampling frame of listed and unlisted landlines. This was done in an effort to reduce the coverage bias of landline only random digit dialing (RDD). The survey sample can therefore be considered to be a probability sample that is representative of the country as a whole.

Data collection was conducted between March 1 and 5, 2021. The number of total completed cases in the sample is 1,230 with an associated margin of error of up to plus or minus 2.8% at a .05 confidence interval (i.e. 19 times out of 20).

The regional distribution of the sample is as follows:

Province/Region Total
British Columbia 163
Alberta 128
Manitoba & Saskatchewan 92
Ontario 460
Quebec 291
Atlantic 95
Territories 1
Total 1,230

Survey results were weighted based on Statistics Canada data from the 2016 Census according to age, gender, education and region to ensure the sample was representative of the general public aged 18 years and older.

Data tables were created to isolate results for major subgroups to be used in the analysis (e.g., results for each age segment, gender, education segment, region, and vote intention).

Please click here for a copy of the questionnaire that was used for this survey.

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