Plenty of Canadians have experienced firsthand how quickly disagreements over public health measures during the pandemic can turn ugly. But a daily flood of hateful attacks received by outspoken medical professionals — especially those who are people of colour — frequently cross the line from outrage to outright personal attacks, racism and even threats of violence.
As restrictions ease across the country and active COVID-19 cases drop, Canadian doctors who took to social media during the crisis to share advice and correct misinformation say the hate they face online isn’t going anywhere.
If anything, it’s stronger than ever.
“What I thought was bad in March 2020 has actually gotten worse now,” said Dr. Amy Tan, a palliative care and family doctor in Victoria.
When anti-Asian hate ramped up last year with the arrival of COVID-19 in North America, Tan said she was inspired to use social media as a platform to call out racism.
She tweets about a range of topics, sharing her own experiences with racism, advocating for the use of masks, discussing vaccines and commenting on social justice issues.
Her social media presence means she’s regularly on the receiving end of misogyny and racism from the trolls who send her direct messages, emails and sometimes physical mail.
“I’ve actually asked my assistant to be careful and wear gloves when she opens mail that looks a little bit suspicious, because I have gotten physical hate mail,” Tan said.
One of the most hurtful comments, she said, came after she finished a live TV interview on Canada Day last year.
“I got an email to my work email and it said, I’m an ugly g–k and that my eyes were too tiny and that I needed to open up my eyes,” she said.
“[My husband] worries about my own physical safety, but also the toll that it has on me. Our 12-year-old son is getting quite the master class in dealing with racism.”
It’s not just racialized doctors who’ve been under fire. Outspoken health advocates across Canada have been trolled, had their accounts hacked and received threats.
Most recently, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin told reporters there had been suspicious activity around his house, and that the severity of online threats targeting him has increased.
“I’ve certainly had a number of threats against me and my family. I’ve been in contact with security and the police, and I’ve had it followed up,” he said on Monday.
‘Like the Wild, Wild West’
Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and a lecturer at the University of Toronto, acknowledged most health professionals have dealt with quite a bit of hate during the pandemic.
“Health workers of all stripes have been targeted, but I think health workers who are people of colour — racialized health workers who have been public — have been targeted especially in nasty ways,” Dosani said.
Dosani was active on social media before the pandemic started. He used Twitter, Instagram and TikTok to comment on social issues, such as better health-care standards for people who are homeless.
When the crisis hit Canada, he continued to advocate on issues of racism and injustice, while also pivoting to raise awareness about physical distancing and masks.
He has tried reporting racist comments to the social media platforms he uses, he said, but there are so many it’s hard to keep up. “It feels like the Wild, Wild West sometimes.”
In one screenshot he shared with CBC News, an Instagram user messaged him privately to call him a “subhuman brownie,” sharing a video of a man spitting.
Often the comments are about the colour of his skin, the way he looks, or the fact he has a Muslim name, Dosani said.
Another private message sent to his Facebook account reads: “If you don’t like it here, how about you go back to that shithole you’re from and see how far you get? Until that time, shut the f–k up!”
The hate can be very real and hurtful, Dosani said. Some messages have left him scared, others just made him angry.
“There are days that I feel like, why am I doing this? Because it’s just a lot of personal toll.”
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As the pandemic evolves and topics have shifted from lockdowns, to masks, to vaccines, Dosani said the haters haven’t eased up: they’ve only changed the focus of their anger.
“In many ways, the trolling continues and, in some cases, has increased,” he said.
So far he’s put up with the trolls, because he believes doctors have a “moral obligation to put out science-based and evidence-based information,” especially at a time when online misinformation is rampant.
Unless the comments go far enough to justify a criminal investigation, doctors in Canada who are outspoken on social media say they’re mostly on their own when it comes to dealing with trolls.
Beyond reporting and flagging racist comments to the social media platforms, there’s not much they can do.
“If I was at a health-care institution, working in person, and someone came in and was verbally aggressive, being racist toward me, there would generally be repercussions,” Dosani said. “When you are online, those safeguards are not present.”
Will hate leave some feeling muzzled?
Canadian Medical Association (CMA) president Dr. Ann Collins said she’s seen how bad the trolls can be on social media — and she worries about the toll on doctors.
The CMA advocates for the interests of Canadian physicians and issues in the health-care sector. Even before the pandemic, Collins said they were concerned about the rate of burnout among doctors.
“The potential downside is that some of those individuals who are good advocates, who speak the truth well, who have good evidence … they will feel, in some instances, that they’re being muzzled by this vitriol,” she said.
‘I’ve tried to avoid discussing it’
Dr. Jennifer Kwan, a family physician in Burlington, Ont., has no plans to let the trolls silence her.
When the pandemic hit last year, Kwan co-founded the group Masks4Canada to advocate for the use of masks and also started using Twitter to share COVID-19 data in Ontario. She spends at least an hour every day compiling data and building the graphs that she tweets out, to help people understand how COVID-19 is affecting the province.
“I know it has been helpful for a lot of people,” she said. “In all parts of life, you’re never going to be getting 100 per cent positive feedback.”
When she started, she didn’t anticipate such a negative backlash.
“I’ve tried to avoid discussing it, because I don’t want to be platforming this kind of hateful behaviour.”
But when asked about it, Kwan acknowledges she’s dealt with racist and sexist comments, emails and phone calls.
“It does feel sometimes like we’re on our own, because unless there’s a physical threat, it’s not something that we can report to law enforcement or any authority,” Kwan said.
Still, she does her best to ignore the haters.
“A lot of these hateful comments come from anonymous people,” Kwan said. “If they’re not even able to put their own name and face on social media, then why should we care about their comments, when we’re putting ourselves out there?”
Was it worth it?
The trolls got bad enough for University of Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan that he resorted to locking down his personal Twitter account; only the people he approved were allowed to see his tweets.
Deonandan, who has an infant son, said he realized he needed to think about the potential toll on his family.
It’s not that the constant stream of comments, like “you should go back where you came from,” were particularly hurtful to Deonandan; growing up in Toronto in the 1970s as a non-white person helped him develop a thick skin.
“Some harsh words aren’t going to hurt me,” he said. “It just makes me sad. It makes me sad for the future of my son.”
He was pushed to lock down his account, he said, when he realized it had stopped being worth it. The final straw was a couple months ago, when someone tried to hack into his Twitter.
“It’s at the point where I don’t know if what I’ve done has been useful. And it’s been unpleasant.”
Deonandan has been active online for years, through social media and on his personal blog. He’s always been willing to engage with haters and try to create a thoughtful back-and-forth, he said, but during the pandemic, things changed.
“I discovered that a lot of people are not looking for a conversation. They’re just looking to hurt you.”
People have sent Deonandan indirect threats of violence, like, “Somebody should beat you up.” Some actually contacted his university dean and tried to get him fired.
“It was making my spouse unhappy. It was making me unhappy. My employer was also getting a little concerned about the amount of abuse I was taking,” he said.
But he doesn’t want to come off as “woe is me.”
“For every horrible message that I get, I get 50 that are quite supportive.”
Tan, on the other hand, said the trolls have only reminded her how important it is to keep speaking out. “If anything, my conviction to fight for all the inequities that COVID has shone a light on has been fuelled,” she said.
Dosani agrees. Despite the emotional toll of his social media advocacy, he said he’s not backing down.
“I’m just getting started. The hate and vitriol will not stop me.”
DeFiance Media Launches To Cover Blockchain-Based DeFi Business And Culture – Forbes
DeFiance Media, a video-news startup focused on coverage of the business and culture of the fast-growing decentralized finance (”DeFi”) sector, has launched with a presence on OTT and digital broadcast services reaching 65 million homes in the United States and abroad, and a new website providing enhanced coverage.
“We’re not taking the ‘Bloomberg for crypto’ approach” of some competing services covering parts of the blockchain world, Scarpa said. “None of them went on TV. We’re only streaming (video). If you look at mass media, and the way they’re portraying the decentralized narrative, there’s a real hole (in coverage) there, for covering it in a positive way.”
The 24/7 channel will feature a mix of original programming from notable personalities, third-party creators such as Hardcore Finance, news from across the world of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens and related areas, as well as related areas such as biotech, the artists and creators using NFTs, artificial intelligence, “connected living,” alternative energy, and “regenerative culture.” Other programming will come from partnerships with high-profile blockchain and cryptocurrency conferences.
“Our job is really more akin to a Huffington Post in terms of curation for these contributors,” Scarpa said. “We enable them to goose their personal brands. That’s our job, to increase carriage, to amplify their voice, promote what their doing.”
Scarpa said he was “adamant” about including cultural coverage of the blockchain space, particularly with NFTs, where many musicians, artists and other creative talent are eagerly jumping in.
“They’re in the space now, they’re artists doing really interesting work,” Scarpa said. “They’re really the cultural fabric of the community. If we were only a financial network, DeFiance wouldn’t be broad enough to be something providers want to carry.”
Scarpa, whom I’ve known socially for many years, served as New York bureau chief in the early days of CNET, which undertook in the 1990s to cover the emerging internet and tech industry in a focused way. Scarpa said he is taking inspiration for DeFiance from the approaches CNET took to industry coverage back then.
Services carrying the startup’s content include aggregators such as Local Now, Select TV, NetRange, Glewed TV, as well as Twitter and Amazon
-owned Twitch. The services reach a combined 50 million U.S. households and another 15 million outside the country.
Initial shows include Bitcoin: Culture Conversations, whose episode feature interviews of former Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary, venture capital stalwart Tim Draper, actor Adrian Grenier and skateboard icon Tony Hawk, and musicians Blond:ish and Fab Five Freddy. Weekly programs will be hosted by Patrick Tsang, Sarah Austin, Matt McKibbon, Ted Moskovitz, Mike Matsumura, Alex Chizhik, Shimon Lazarov, Steve McGarry, Siraj Raval, and Freya Fox.
The company hopes to make money several ways: with ad-revenue shares from carriers, branded entertainment/sponsored content, events, content licensing to Getty Images and similar outlets, and transactional markets, among other potential opportunities.
DeFiance is based in Puerto Rico, and has a studio in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, Scarpa said. But in keeping with its core subject matter, the operation is heavily decentralized, with contributors and programming coming from numerous cities.
The company has been raising a seed round of about $2 million, Scarpa said.
It counts among its investors and advisers a number of notables in the blockchain world and related areas, including investor Brock Pierce, who is long-time chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation; Eric Pulier, founder of Vatom; Doug Scott, founder of gaming culture company Subnation; Hong Kong investor and podcast host Patrick P.L. Tsang; Good Human co-founder and former Warner Bros. Entertainment VP James Glasscock; and Craig Sellars, co-founder/CTO of cryptocurrency services company Tether. Sellars and Pulier are credited as pioneering creators of the technologies behind NFTs.
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How HuffPost Canada's digital impact and untimely demise changed Canadian news media – Poynter
Mel Woods found out they no longer had a job from a group chat.
The Vancouver-based journalist was working as HuffPost Canada’s only worker in the western region of the country, covering viral and trending stories as an associate editor, up until the outlet’s unceremonious March 2021 demise. BuzzFeed bought HuffPost in November 2019 and, just two weeks after the newsroom’s decision to unionize, closed HuffPost Canada and left 23 staff without their jobs.
It’s another data point in a long list of recent closures and contractions on the Canadian media landscape.
Many of those laid off have landed positions elsewhere. Woods now plies their trade at Xtra — a Toronto-based outlet focused on 2SLGBTQ+ perspectives — and others have surfaced as staff at The New York Times, CBC and Politico, among others. Some left for public relations gigs, and others are currently working as freelancers. The announcement of the closure just one week from the meeting, Woods said, left some staff scrambling.
“For somebody who was suddenly unemployed, it was a very, very busy week because we had to sort out what happened and when, and what the unionization played into it, what severance played into it and why it had happened because it caught all of us by surprise,” Woods said.
HuffPost’s union, CWA Canada, had never faced a closure in its history. President Martin O’Hanlon said the ceasing of operations points to BuzzFeed’s lack of understanding of the Canadian media landscape.
“I don’t think it says a lot about the Canadian media industry, per se, I think it says a lot about BuzzFeed. And I think it tells you that BuzzFeed is just interested in America, and in making as much profit as possible,” O’Hanlon said. “… They don’t give a damn about Canadian journalism is the bottom line.”
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed said: “BuzzFeed announced a restructuring of HuffPost in March in order to break even this year and fast-track its path to profitability. As part of these changes, we made the difficult decision to close HuffPost’s Canada and Quebec operations. The incredibly talented teams there have made enormous contributions to the political and news ecosystems in Canada — from extensive, award-winning coverage of the federal election, to relentless reporting on how COVID-19 exacerbated a long-term care crisis, and a powerful investigation of how mental illness is responded to as a crime. We know this decision was painful for everyone affected, but we are confident that these journalists will continue to do powerful and impactful reporting in the years to come. We continue to do everything we can to ensure their transition is a smooth one.”
The announcement certainly wasn’t easy on the staff of HuffPost Canada. The all-hands meeting in which the closure was announced, which Woods said was predicted within the staff to be announcing a new U.S. editor-in-chief, had the password “spring is here.”
But the closing of HuffPost Canada is more than another sad story to add to the layoffs seen at other newsrooms in Canada, most publicly at Global and Postmedia. HuffPost’s Canada’s coverage won awards posthumously. Woods won an award from RTDNA Canada for examining gender and transphobia more than two months after the outlet officially closed.
The skill and success of the staff was partially due to the culture and the diversity of the newsroom, Woods said.
“The fact of how quickly folks have been snapped up by other places is proof of the respect that was had for our newsroom,” Woods said. “We kind of sprinkled our seeds everywhere.”
Woods likened the HuffPost style that they have taken to Xtra as “serving (readers) their vegetables, but in a good way,” through a metrics and service journalism-focused approach.
Some of those seeds appear to have taken root elsewhere. New approaches to digital journalism in Canada, including what service looks like to staff and readers, is a common thread in discussions with Canadian newsroom leaders.
The Canadian Association of Journalists recently completed data collection for their first diversity survey, modeling their work after the News Leaders Association in the U.S. Meanwhile, CBC made the decision to turn off all Facebook comments on news stories for a month beginning in mid-June, which editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon attributed to a data-gathering exercise mixed with a want to protect the mental health of journalists. It is a policy that they have since extended to the end of October.
HuffPost Canada’s digital impact, and its dismantling, points toward a future for Canadian journalism that must consider the health of its readers and staff while acknowledging the changing needs of digital media.
CBC’s decision to direct the tenets of service journalism toward its own staff hints toward an industry that is understanding (at a glacial pace) just how worn down it is and how building back means doing so with care. At this year’s Michener Awards, a ceremony dedicated to public service journalism and its impact on society, APTN journalist Kenneth Jackson acknowledged what it means to sit with the impact your work makes, on subjects, readers and staff.
“If you want to do service journalism you can’t fly above it,” he said, “you gotta get down and wear it.”
BuzzFeed appears to have worn its decision, as have the journalists who had to face the consequences.
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