A poll conducted in the wake of the storming of the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump supporters and far-right groups has found that most Canadians want government action against online hate.
Commissioned by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the poll results also show that almost three-quarters of Canadians are concerned about the rise of right-wing extremism and terrorism.
The results were released Monday by the CRRF, a Crown corporation, as the Liberal government is preparing to introduce measures to regulate social media content.
“The fact that most Canadians see this as a problem is all the more reason why our government needs to make online hate speech regulation a policy priority,” said Mohammed Hashim, the foundation’s executive director.
During the 2019 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would require social media companies to remove illegal content such as hate speech within 24 hours or face “significant financial penalties.”
The pledge remains unfulfilled, but the government said last week it would soon introduce legislation to regulate internet content.
Under the proposal, online platforms would have to “monitor and eliminate illegal content,” said Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s spokesperson Camille Gagné-Raynauld.
“That includes hate speech, terrorist propaganda, violent content, child sexual exploitation and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images,” she said.
“We will also ensure that victims are heard and protected by providing them with a simplified, safe and independent complaint process.”
The Abacus Data poll, which surveyed 2,000 Canadians between Jan. 15 and 18, reported that 58 per cent felt hateful content on the internet was increasing, and 60 per cent wanted greater federal regulation.
Support for requiring social media companies to remove racist or hateful content within one day was pegged at 80%, while 10 per cent were opposed, the poll said.
It also reported approval of other measures, such as requiring social media companies to remove users who shared racist or hateful content on their platforms.
Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants have responded to major incidents of extremist violence such as the New Zealand mosque attacks by deplatforming users for violating their rules.
But Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said allowing companies to police themselves had not worked.
“They self-regulate and they’re not doing a good job,” he said.
He said right-wing extremists were exploiting online platforms, which he called a “tool for some of the most pernicious hate groups on the continent and around the world.”
“They exist only because they are able to use these platforms,” he said. “That is why they’re growing. That is why we saw what happened in Washington. There have to be rules.”
Twenty-five per cent of those polled were extremely concerned about the rise of right-wing extremism and terrorism, while 23 per cent were very concerned, 23 per cent were somewhat concerned and 20 per cent were “not that concerned.”
Youths aged 18 to 29, racialized Canadians and those on the political left were most likely to be concerned. Among the political right, 60 per cent were concerned and 36 per cent unconcerned about the issue.
The poll found that a third had seen online content inciting violence, while six per cent had experienced it. For racialized Canadians, the figures were significantly higher, at 41 per cent and 11 per cent.
“Across every item, racialized Canadians are more likely to report experiencing or seeing content online,” the poll said.
Overall, 49 per cent thought online hate and racism was a “big problem,” while 44 per cent considered it a “minor” problem. Youths and left-leaning Canadians were most likely to see it as a problem.
“We are encouraged that Canadians appear to be willing to support a strong framework for ensuring we minimize hate and harassment — even in the darkest corners of virtual society,” Hashim said.
The poll’s margin of error was 2.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.