Misogyny lives, and the internet is giving it too much oxygen

, , Comments Off on Misogyny lives, and the internet is giving it too much oxygen

The only way to stop poison spewing from hate sites is to shut them down and deny the cover of anonymity to potential perpetrators. That would be a noble outcome of the horrific Toronto tragedy.


First published on April 30, 2018 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—Misogyny lives. And the internet is giving it too much oxygen.

While Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is being called to account by governments around the world for political misuse of social media intel, a bigger issue looms in cyberspace.

Normal platforms of discourse are governed by legal restraints which serve to cool down the rhetoric that can come from unfettered anonymity. Slander, libel and anti-hate laws serve to make people think before they speak, write or act. Not so for tweets and social media postings.

The kind of bilious outrage that is common on the internet would be outlawed in traditional newspapers and television.

The internet is the modern-day equivalent of the Wild West, with like-minded bandits, terrorists and incels getting together to cultivate a venomous sense of brotherhood.

Hate speech is given free rein on the web, and communities connected by common deviance are rapidly mushrooming. They thrive in the dark web with little public knowledge or exposure. Underground chat groups provide blanket anonymity, encouraging deviants and misfits to group together into cells of like-minded outsiders who do not even have to use their own names to make common cause against the world.

From jihadists to white supremacists, from incels to pedophiles, they derive comfort in the belief that they are part of a bigger movement and form a community.

Their hate-mongering would be illegal in other fora. So it is about time the purveyors of social media put their mouth where their money is. Anonymity in social media should be outlawed.

An international convention to ban internet hate speech would be a good place for world governments to start. That initiative should be accompanied by national laws outlawing anonymity and hate speech in social media communications. And social media owners should be responsible for the content their platforms create.

Last week Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly joined with the Canada Council for the Arts in announcing a series of initiatives to support harassment-free workplaces in the arts. She vowed to deny funding to organizations that fail to provide such a workplace.

The initiative is an important one. But it pales in comparison to the looming challenges of the virtual workplace. One should not preclude the other but the government would be well-advised to launch targetted public discussions about how to achieve a harassment-free internet.

The tragic events in Toronto last week shone a light into the depth of misogyny that festers and is fostered in the deep net.

Like many, I had never heard of the incel movement. But the more I learn about it, the more I fear that with these movements growing by the day, misogyny will never be stamped out.

According to an investigative piece in Elle magazine, incel is an underground movement of disgruntled men who blame women for their incapacity to form lasting relationships.

Until it was shut down last November, internet purveyor Reddit provided a safe place for misogynists to gather and spew hate. The site posted this proviso to warn users “Normies are allowed to post here, but do note that many incels are generally hostile to normies; tread carefully. Blackpill: A subjective term used to describe the real or perceived socially unspoken realizations that come from being a long-time incel. This sidebar will certainly be revised every now and again.”

Reddit boasted 40,000 registered members in its incel chat group. The real numbers are much higher because that figure does not include visitors who monitor the site without establishing their own accounts.

The now-infamous Facebook posting of Alek Minassian was linked to incel chat rooms. He conferred high praise upon the self-described “supreme gentleman” Californian Elliot Rodger, who murdered six people and injured 14 others before killing himself.

Minassian appears to have replicated Rodger’s massacre, right down to motive. In Rodger’s pre-massacre suicide note, he claims his murders were designed to “punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex”. He also uploaded a YouTube video explaining why.

Minassian claims similar victimization status on his postings. After the murders, Facebook deleted the Minassian account, but that is not enough. A current posting on Incel.me says that women should be like cattle, enslaved to service men’s sexual desires.

The oversight of hate speech must be expanded and included in a legislated, legal framework.

The only way to stop poison spewing from hate sites is to shut them down and deny the cover of anonymity to potential perpetrators.

That would be a noble outcome of the horrific Toronto tragedy.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.