Have you been confronted by a family member leaving racist comments on your post about immigration? Have your photos from the Women’s March been swarmed by trolls saying misogynistic things? The right seems to be able not only to dominate our digital spaces but do so using bots. We need to make sure we do not cede space to forces. Here are some ideas spurred on by a conversation we hosted at the 2019 Progress Summit in Ottawa.
Here are 6 things you could start doing right now to confront the right-wing discourse on social media platforms:
Action #1: Start with your own community and state opposition
Whether it’s your family or the social movement you are part of you are often exposed to people who express attitudes which are regressive. It can be very tempting to avoid conflict and simply let these expressions pass unchallenged. The trouble with this is that a lack of challenge can be read by others around you that what has been said is true.
That being said, you do not have to take on a full-fledged debate. If you do not feel comfortable getting into a full argument, it is perfectly reasonable to simply state your opposition to what has been said in a respectful manner and leave it at that.
It is worth mentioning that the Migrant Rights Network have developed resources for building more inclusive spaces, including a very useful slide deck on resisting xenophobia and racism. Consider if following their template would help you have these conversations in a more welcoming space.
Action #2: Organize an “online support army”
If you know you that a scheduled post or tweet on your organization’s page is going to attract a lot of traffic, set the terms of the debate by agreeing in advance with a group of people to immediately comment in support within minutes of posting. If a troll does come along, ensure that your committee quickly and efficiently shut down their arguments, and consider banning the troll from the page.
Action #3: Invest in people “sitting on the fence”
We are often stuck in either our own bubble “preaching to the choir” so to say or nearly headbutting our most vehement opponents. Instead of focus on those two segments, it’s good to remember that there is a wider spectrum of people, especially undecided people who are misled by populist propaganda or misinformed. Let’s start with those segments who are passively supporting us, neutral towards us, or only passively opposing us. Use the Spectrum of Allies analysis to map those segments of people effectively.
Action #4: See it, report it
Sometimes online conversations can cross the line. Section 319 of the Canadian Criminal Code criminalizes hate speech. So, when posts stop being a mere ideological perspective and transform into violent or prejudiced comments that are inciting hate against an identifiable group of people, report it on the social media platform but also report it as a hate crime to your local authorities. Local authorities might have different ways of reporting hate-motivated crimes, so the first place to start is visiting the website of your city’s police service for reporting procedures. These reports will not likely result in arrests but if things escalate, having the documentation of a pattern of behaviour is very important.
Action #5: Create a prefigurative narrative
We’ve all daydreamt about what we wish our social utopia would look like. Use your imagination of a more respectful, just, and compassionate one to create a new narrative that speaks to the hearts and minds of people across different camps. We can safely assume that most people, from left to right, are deeply troubled by their daily concerns which they feel most heavily through labour and employment, housing, bills, schools -- everything about our daily lives! So, everyone will also feel a sense of belonging to a future that addresses their concerns. You could do that through storytelling that would transform anger and fear of the present into hope for the future.
Action #6: Start planning for a long-term strategic campaign
Yes! That’s probably what we need most, but due to time constraints and imminent threats of a global rise in fascism, we often forget what we tell others to do: strategize. There is no time better than now to start planning for a long-term campaign guided by specific, measurable and time-bound goals.
This article was inspired by, and draws its content from, the generous and thoughtful contributions of all the participants who attended Campaign Gears’ most popular session “How to confront the right online” at the Progress Summit that took place in Ottawa in March 2019.
Campaign Gears works exclusively with progressive organizations and is committed to contributing to a more just and inclusive future in Canada. Our team has a wide range of campaigning experience and provide support on digital organizing, campaign strategy, building action-oriented websites, and more. If you are working on a campaign and need some help, please contact us. We help you win!