Experts predict the next US elections and the COVID-19 pandemic will increase online extremism
Faced with the rising tide of online hatred and boycotts of advertisers, Facebook Canada today announces that it is joining the Ontario Tech University Center for Hate, Prejudice and Extremism to create what it calls the Global Network Against Hate.
The network, which will receive $ 500,000 from Facebook in five years, is tasked with detecting emerging trends in online extremism and developing strategies, policies and tools to combat them.
The move comes when experts like Barbara Perry, director of Center on Hate, Bias and Extremism, warn that the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming election campaign in the United States are likely to cause a wave of hateful online posts in Canada and elsewhere in the coming months – hate that can spread to the offline world.
“I think we will see an escalation rather than a decrease in this type of activity, both online and offline,” said Perry.
“I think [US President Donald] Trump has already shown a willingness to expand things on his side, with military interventions, for example, in Democratic-controlled cities. So I think this will further influence and toughen the resolution of the people on the far right and the COVID blockades will exacerbate the patterns we’ve already seen “.
Perry said the online spread of theories about extremism and conspiracy has clear connections to real-world events in Canada. She said that Corey Hurren – the member of the Canadian Armed Forces accused of uttering threats against the Prime Minister and hitting Rideau Hall’s gate with firearms loaded earlier this month – had an online record that suggests he was influenced by QAnon’s conspiracy theories about the source of the pandemic.
Alek Minassian – who goes on trial in November on 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in connection with an April 2018 van attack in Toronto that killed ten lives – told police he is part of the movement “incel”, a group of men who describe themselves as “celibate unintentionally” and whose online discussions often involve angry and hateful statements about women.
Perry served as a Facebook consultant in 2019, helping the social media giant to identify a series of accounts in Canada that promoted visions of white supremacy. Subsequently, Facebook barred several individuals from its platform – including far-right political activist Faith Goldy and “white nationalist” Kevin Goudreau – and several groups, including Odin’s soldiers, the Canadian nationalist front, Aryan Strikeforce and the Odin’s wolves.
Facebook is being criticized by those who accuse it of allowing hate to spread on its platform. A consumer boycott campaign has led major brands like Unilever, Adidas and Microsoft to withdraw their ads from Facebook.
Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada, said the partnership with Ontario Tech has been underway for some time.
Chan said Facebook originally planned to announce the partnership in March, but was delayed by the pandemic.
The agreement with Center on Hate, Bias and Extremism is above and beyond Facebook’s current attempts to keep online hate off its platform; Chan said he hoped it would help the social media giant to identify emerging tactics and trends.
“Our challenge … is to better understand how these trends are evolving and stay one step ahead of them,” he said.
A global hub for studying hate online
The money will allow the center to hire an additional person and, according to a statement from Facebook and Ontario Tech, aims to help it become a knowledge center on hate and violent extremism, providing high level knowledge to national partners, international and global through evidence-based education, training and programming “.
While critics may say that $ 500,000 in five years is too little, it is too late, Perry said it will make a big difference in his organization’s ability to monitor hatred and violent extremism online.
Separately, the Perry center also received funding from the Federal Department of Public Security and the Department of National Defense.
Perry said there was an increase in far-right online activity in Canada. A recent interim study from its center and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue between January 2019 and January 2020 identified 6,600 Canadian groups, channels, accounts and pages identified with right-wing extremism on seven social media platforms – sites that collectively reached more than 11 millions of users.
She said that far-right supporters have also appeared in protests against the blockade in Canada and halted Black Lives Matter demonstrations to stop them.
“We are seeing an increase in rates of uncivilized and hateful online behavior from people who are not affiliated with these groups; therefore, they are absorbing some of these narratives and part of that feeling,” she said. “At the extreme, there are people who act out of these feelings.”
Perry said that the most dangerous threats that emerge online are the incel movement and so-called “accelerationist” groups, such as the Boogaloo Boys, pro-weapons and anti-government, who believe the United States is going into a second civil war and they want to speed up their arrival.
Chan also sees the incel movement as a growing threat.
“Certainly, our Canadian intelligence agencies have listed this as violent extremism,” he said, adding that the May charges against a Toronto teenager in connection with the stabbing death of a woman in February mark the first time he knows that a The attack allegedly related to the incel movement was labeled terrorism.
Chan said Tuesday’s announcement was only part of Facebook’s plans for the coming months to combat discrimination. By the end of the year, he said, he plans to revise his advertising system to prevent people from placing discriminatory ads for items like jobs, credit or housing.
Facebook is also planning a series of roundtables in the fall on social justice and anti-discrimination measures, including one on indigenous issues.