How extreme ideas spread online and into the real world and what editors, platforms and everyone else should do about it
Massey College Press Club
November 14 @ 7:45 pm – 9:00 pm EST
Upper Library, 4 Devonshire Place
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2E1 Canada
At some point in the last decade, our collective, cultural sense of what’s bounded began to fray. Ideas long considered extreme were suddenly not. Figures—like Steve Bannon, Faith Goldy, and Alex Jones—long dismissed as fringe began shuffling toward the mainstream. And suddenly everywhere online, everyone was yelling — about free speech and hate, rights and responsibilities and all kinds of things that seemed to be written in some kind of sophomoric code: “Cucks,” “globalists,” “incels.”
In last year, the actual impact of all this online furor has become painfully, violently clear. The Toronto van attack, the Pittsburgh synagogue murders, the crude bombs mailed to American liberals: all of these allegedly had roots in fringe communities online. And yet, it isn’t just the fringe anymore. Mainstream politicians spout and spread conspiracy theories ad nauseam. Some supposedly fringe characters have platforms on social media larger than any but the largest of the mainstream press.
All of this leaves anyone with a role in curating and producing information with an endless dilemma. How do you treat ideas and people that seem extreme but are suddenly common? Do you ignore them? Do you let them speak? If you’re a platform, do you ban them? If you’re an editor, do you cover them? If you’re a producer, do you book them for your show?
“(T)he problem of how to balance free speech and its sometimes violent consequences is not a niche idea,” tech thinker Navneet Alang wrote recently in the Globe and Mail. “It is a fundamental issue of our time.” On Nov. 14, at Massey College, some of Canada’s leading journalists and thinkersdissect this issue in depth. They’ll explain the ways extreme ideas spread online and debate the responsibilities editors, platforms and governments have to let it go or make it stop.
Moderated by Tessa Sproule is the co-founder and CEO of Vubble, and a former head of digital at the CBC