Racist comments on Indigenous stories prompts outlets to turn them off

In a brief editorial that doesn’t pull punches, SooToday editor Mike Purvis announced this week that the site would be closing all comments on stories about Indigenous issues.

“It’s not that we don’t think it’s a topic worthy of discussion,” Purvis wrote. Au contraire, he explained:

“Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people is one of the most pressing things facing our country, and this community. Especially right now.

“It’s just that some of you don’t seem to have anything of value to say. And yet you keep saying it anyway. Over and over again. At length, and in hurtful and often hateful language.”

The editorial is gaining traction online, particularly as more media editors and comment moderators, including those at Global News, report increasingly vitriolic, violent and flat-out racist comments on their sites.

And while SooToday is one of the first to announce a plan to close comments in the wake of the Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests that have dominated recent news coverage, this is far from the first time that websites have blocked commenting in an attempt to contain racism.

So what exactly is it about online comment sections that makes people feel comfortable posting horrendous things, such as Purvis noted, like “Canadians would be better off if we could ‘live native free’”?

A team at Western Sydney University and the University of Technology Sydney in Australia did a 10-year systematic review of cyber-racism research. What they found is that the internet is a place where individuals and groups can easily spread divisive views.

Researchers found that individuals — such as those posting hurtful, insensitive and racist comments about Indigenous people under stories mentioning Wet’suwet’en — mostly do it to hurt people and to find other like-minded people who will “confirm their racist views.”

An incredibly popular place for them to seek out people who share their racist views?

News commentary websites.

Their go-to strategies?

“Denying or minimising the issue of racism, denigrating ‘non-whites’, and reframing the meaning of current news stories to support their views,” the researchers wrote.

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