There’s a new pilot project to bring more immigrants to Sudbury and four other northern communities. The moment we saw this news, we knew we were in for a complete barrage of disgusting comments from locals. Like most comments sections, the comments on articles by local media here are already a cesspool of ignorance and bigotry on a good day, but this announcement brought the racism level up to ten.
Here at Anti-Racist Sudbury one of our mottos is that undocumented things never happened, especially if they are bad things, so we monitor these places daily and keep notes on who these people are, even though we are usually pretty quiet about it.
We’re used to this sort of content. We see it every day in racist Facebook groups that we monitor. But these aren’t from racist Facebook groups, they’re from the Sudbury.com, The Sudbury Star, Shoutout Sudbury and the “free speech” alternative to Robert Kirwan’s Valley East page.
Most of these people are not members of hate groups, though. These are regular people, who are likely not even familiar with such things, spewing hate that would not be at all out of place on the worst Nazi forums.
When the actual, dyed-in-the-wool Neo-Nazis show up the content isn’t even much different: all the same themes of whites being replaced by immigrants who are taking over are the pretty much the same.
Of course, we also see the Soldiers of Odin showing up.
We also find a Canadian Combat Coalition, Proud Boys and Yellow Vests. Again, these comments from the people in hate groups are basically the same as those of the other locals. We would probably not even notice a difference if we did not already know who these individuals are.
So that’s fun.
To put it lightly, these comments sections are a hostile environment. It is not pleasurable for anybody to even read this stuff and intervene in a thread full of racists, Neo-Nazis and hate group members, much less for a racialized person or an immigrant.
There is a false consensus that is enforced in these threads by the vile individuals that congregate in them, one that happens largely because these racists are so disgusting that no one wants to speak to them. We end up with a public space full of racists, feeling emboldened by the false consensus they create, pushing everyone else out of that space and stopping most reasonable people from participating in conversations. Which is quite intentional and exactly what these racists want. They want to hang around getting high on each other’s farts and wallowing in their own filth.
All the people who run these pages and groups should just ban these people. But it is unlikely they will. Sudbury Star and Sudbury.com in particular are both businesses, and we estimate that these commentators are a large enough part of their audience that they don’t want to lose them. It’s also simply a fact that all these platforms have right-wing ownership and that having a bunch of racists run everyone else out is basically in their interest as long as it doesn’t affect how much money they make.
That leaves the rest of us to take care of the problem. The biggest thing that we think can help is introducing consequences for these people’s behavior.
We have two quick ideas of how that can be done:
First, some of us, ideally those who are the most comfortable with it, should self-select to engage with them in these online spaces and tell them to get lost. It’s important that racist behavior in public not go unopposed, especially if the racists are beginning to congregate. At the same time there should also be a genuine effort to to educate those who are truly misinformed.
Second, many businesses frown on their employees making horrible comments online. It’s pretty easy to get ahold of businesses online these days and tell them that their employees are being jackasses. Even if someone isn’t necessarily fired, they will usually learn that the complaint was made and this helps to nudge them into shutting up in the future. A lot of people like to argue that getting people fired for their views sets a bad precedent that we will regret, but those people are completely wrong. This is one area where the dynamics entirely favor the good guys, for once. Unless you work at a racism factory, you probably aren’t going to get fired for simply not being racist.
We try not to be too pushy and tell people what to do, but we think those two things could help a lot.