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Anti-hate experts concerned about rise in online threats toward LGBTQ2S+ events in Canada

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The David and Goliath fight against online conspiracies
Online conspiracies and misinformation are driving mistrust, division and even violence – much of it is seeded on social media platforms. And big tech companies are cashing in on the views and likes, driven by algorithms designed not to inform but to retain users. For The New Reality, Jeff Semple profiles Imran Ahmed and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a small group at the heart of the fight for reform and accountability. – Apr 9, 2022 – Apr 9, 2022

Anti-hate experts are raising concerns after homophobic and transphobic threats targeted organizers of LGBTQ2S+ events across Canada.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network says “groomer” narratives — a hateful discourse used to target queer and trans people — are being spread across social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok.

According to the network, researchers are seeing an importation of specific discourse topics from the United States. This includes groomer narratives, disinformation about gender-affirming care and transphobic comments about family-friendly drag storytime events.

“We’re seeing an importation of these ideas from the United States that are being plugged into the Canadian social media and far-right organizing sphere,” said Hazel Woodrow, Canadian Anti-Hate Network’s education facilitator.

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“It’s not a new discourse overall but it is a little bit novel for social media.”

The concerns come after various LGBTQ2S+ organizations and event organizers across Canada received threats online. A popular tweet on Tuesday showed screengrabs of people organizing a protest against Calgary Public Library’s Reading with Royalty program, a family-friendly drag queen storytime event.

In Victoria, organizers of a family-friendly drag show decided to cancel the event after multiple threats and harassing calls were made.

Woodrow said there is a relationship between large social media accounts and the rise of anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate and disinformation in Canada. Libs of TikTok, a Twitter account that routinely targets LGBTQ2S+ events and communities, has more than 1 million followers and is often amplified by right-wing conspiracy theorists and media.

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“We have seen Canadian events featured on Libs of TikTok, and that’s concerning for us because they have a huge base,” Woodrow said.

“We’re seeing far-right media outlets promoting Libs of TikTok content and then actual people go and harass LGBTQ2S+ communities, even though these outlets don’t directly tell them to.”

There is also a relationship between hate movements and conspiracy theories and it is a really big problem, says Woodrow.

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“QAnon is very tied up with concerns about children and protecting children, and this leads to the rumours and panic (around queer and trans people),” she said.

“Not all people who believe in conspiracy theories do so from a place of hate, but all hateful ideologies come from conspiracy theories.”

Woodrow says community defense is important in combatting disinformation against LGBTQ2S+ people, especially during Pride Month.

“The best-case scenario is when a group of defenders show up and the people you’re defending against don’t even show. It’s always better to over-protect a vulnerable population than to protect them alone,” Woodrow said.

She also encouraged parents to have conversations with their children about disinformation that they see on social media. Conspiracy theorists often groom youth and children on TikTok and exploit their naivety and impulsiveness, Woodrow said.

“Make yourself open to having conversations… Really leaning on the fact that social media literacy can go a long way,” Woodrow said.

But she also said it’s important to have these conversations with elderly family members, too.

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“Our elders are vulnerable to (disinformation) because they didn’t grow up learning social media literacy… Don’t debate conspiracy theories but talk about how a social media post makes them feel,” Woodrow said.

“Believing in conspiracy theories is very emotional. It’s not a logical thing.”

The Calgary Public Library (CPL) told 770 CHQR it was aware of a protest being organized online and staff made necessary precautions to make sure families felt safe at the event.

Mary Kapusta, CPL’s communications director, said the event happened as planned and everyone had a lot of fun.

“We were prepared and we talked to our staff and our presenter about the possibility of that kind of activity,” Kapusta said.

“It’s hard when you see that kind of activity and you don’t want to feed into it. We made sure our staff felt empowered to answer any questions from patrons.”

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