This research is funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant for five years (2020-2025) enabling us to explore the online communication of alt-right populist groups and individuals who are operating in the Canadian public sphere across social media platforms. These online social platforms serve as alternative news sources with the potential to challenge traditional media coverage of events and issues. Through page views, likes, posts, and retweets of harmful speech, alt-right communities online seek to undermine established knowledge and expertise. How these actions are used to attract and radicalize adherents—including when and how they appear in established mainstream media—will form the basis of this platform of study.
In our multiplatform critical analysis of Canadian online communities, our research will track how historical references are weaponized by populist and far-right memory entrepreneurs to amplify and normalize distinct ideological positions. Our aim is to analyze deliberate historical misremembering as a form of harmful speech designed to delegitimize multiculturalism and human rights protections. By tracking alt-right populist groups and individuals across social networks, we will illuminate how Canadian memory entrepreneurs deploy history to curate a particular telling of the past to influence the present; a present inflected with common prejudices among populists the world over but bearing unique national characteristics. Our project will analyze the forms these discourses take while measuring their reach to ascertain the extent to which dis- and misinformation seeps into the public arena. Researchers will analyze the role, make-up, and pathways of differentiated historical truth claims to better understand how select historical references are amplified at the expense of others. How do such claims vary in different socio-political contexts? How are they operationalized? And, are they opposed by everyday citizens engaged in networked publics?
Our goal is to provide a methodology to better understand how historical truth is negotiated online and offer tangible solutions for how local government and organizations can help citizens – especially young Canadians – navigate this terrain mindfully. To that end, our project will generate both academic analysis and a series of outreach initiatives to equip civil society, students, educators, and government with the tools and understanding to better identify historical misremembering and hate speech as a gateway to radicalization.