Digital activists fight back against barrage of trolls

It’s racist trolls vs. inclusive keyboard warriors. How BIPOC voices are being silenced online and the effort by activists to turn up the volume. Crystal Laderas reports.

By Crystal Laderas & Jo Horwood

CALGARY (CityNews) – Canadian digital activists are fighting back against online hate with the goal of transforming social media into a more inclusive space.

Activists say online platforms have turned into heated warzones of words, especially for BIPOC voices.

Calgary’s Michelle Robinson, the host of the Native Calgarian podcast, is just one of the voices fighting to stay vocal online. She says her digital experience is a constant battle against racist trolls who team up to target activists or anyone with a diverse voice.

“I spend about an hour a day blocking people,” said Robinson. “A lot of our people get de-platformed because you’ll get 20 racists from an organization who say, ‘we’re going to target this one particular person.’”

Robinson’s block list just keeps growing, especially with her ties to a Facebook group pushing to change the name of the Langevin School in Calgary, which is named after a notorious architect of residential schools.

Black activists in the United States have previously said they cannot speak about racism online without posts being removed because they are reported as hate speech.

Meanwhile, those same posts are trolled with bigoted comments.

“They won’t investigate white supremacy, but they have no problem deleting an Indigenous creator from any other content,” said Robinson.

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And not all the offensive comments directed at activists come in the form of outward insults.

“They think they’re well-meaning, but they’re actually asking or saying really microaggression-type comments, so we actually have to delete those as well,” said Robinson.

Stephanie Chan is part of I Am Here Canada, a group that encourages social media users to engage in online conversations and share diverse perspectives and facts.

She says she’s experienced both sides of the onslaught.

“I actually had a guy try to explain to me how ‘slant eyes’ is not racist, and that he was trying to compliment me,” said Chan.

“I had a woman mimic my profile, then she stole my photos and made a new profile offering massage services.”

But that has not stopped her fingers from typing as part of the ‘counter-speak’ movement, which works to push down intolerant comments with every post.

For activists like Robinson, at times the effort can seem too great to conquer.

“Sometimes I think it’s not worth it, but you do get people who will tell you, ‘I listened to your podcast and it changed my mind on something,’” she said.

Robinson says that while it is a lot easier to see the hate, there is plenty of good on the internet to interact with.

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