Last week, Global News reported that the leader of His Majesty’s loyal opposition, Pierre Poilievre’s YouTube videos have carried an incredibly specific misogynist tag, MGTOW, since March of 2018. These aren’t tags video viewers can openly see; they are inputted by the publisher and viewable only to anyone interested in perusing the video’s page source code.

The tag, MGTOW, refers to “men going their own way”, and is part of the larger “manosphere” that exists on the internet. At best, the MGTOW movement can be described as a group largely comprised of heterosexual men who believe equality gains made by women in the last few decades have gone too far, resulting in the widespread and systemic discrimination against men. MGTOW adherents aim to remove themselves from the company of women entirely. At worst, though, MGTOW has been linked to extremism and outright violence.

In a post detailing why Reddit banned the r/MGTOW subreddit, it was explained that, “While the movement was ostensibly about men "going their own way" without women or relationships, the subreddit was obsessed with denigrating and hating women and essentially operated like any other altright (sic) forum with just a slightly more misogynistic focus.” The post goes on to state, “The subreddit was well-known for radicalizing men to hate women and even engage in extreme violence.”

Most people don’t know what MGTOW is, but whoever put in the tag did, so it’s curious that the Conservatives have called off an internal probe to find out who was responsible. Even if one were to make the argument Poilievre’s team could not have known about the more insidious aspects of the MGTOW movement in March of 2018, they surely would have after the Toronto van attack the following month. After one of the most horrific mass murders in our country’s history, the Conservative leader and his team should have thought twice about employing an incel-adjacent tag.

Anyone working in digital campaigns – whether political or otherwise – knows the purpose of YouTube tags is to help viewers discover your content. Experts and academics have long pointed to the fact that many of the large tech platforms use algorithms that incentivize polarizing and otherwise harmful content, yet the details of how they target users remains hidden behind a veritable black box.

It's not enough for Pierre Poilievre to condemn misogyny. He must promise to tackle online harms as well. #cdnpoli #hatespeech #misogyny @supriyadwivedi writes for @natobserver

Which brings us the issue of having a terminally online 43-year-old as leader of the Official Opposition at a time when the federal government is embarking on its stated aim to tackle harmful online content.

If one is inclined to take Poilievre at his word, he had no idea about the use of the MGTOW tag on his videos for the last four years. Now that he does, will he and the Conservatives work with the federal government to demand accountability and transparency from these platforms who have completely warped the way large segments of our society experience reality?

The Conservatives, including Poilievre, have largely painted any attempt at curbing or mitigating online harms as an exercise in state censorship of the internet. But demanding transparency from corporations that use our personal data to fuel algorithmically amplified content into our feeds, warping public debate with the overpromotion of harmful and divisive content, isn’t censorship or stifling free speech. It’s safeguarding the norms of our public discourse, and ultimately, our democracy.

Conservatives in the U.K. have developed an approach to online harms with a framework that is focused on tackling the systemic incentives that lead to the creation, dissemination, and amplification of harmful content. The E.U. has a similar approach, and like the U.K., requires that tech platforms be much more transparent in terms of how their algorithms work.

Any Canadian framework that tackles online harms must ensure platforms are being transparent ​in how they collect our data, share it with third parties, and use it via algorithms to promote content back to us. Similarly, Canada should finally subject social media platforms to the same standard as other consumer facing products, which is the duty to act responsibly. This would place the onus on platforms to demonstrate they have conducted risk assessments gauging the potential harm of their products, and have taken steps to minimise them.

All other consumer-facing products are required to conduct risk assessments and demonstrate they have taken steps to mitigate risks that are discovered. Continuing to exempt tech and social media platforms from this standard makes no sense, especially when one considers the ample evidence pointing to the corrosive and widespread harmful effects these platforms have had on our society.

Even when continually pressed about the use of the MGTOW tag in his YouTube uploads, Poilievre has thus far refused to apologize. He did, however, state that he condemns “all forms of misogyny”. If there is even a shred of truth to that, he will lead the Conservatives to demand more transparency and accountability from the platforms who have been pushing misogyny and other forms of hate into our discourse.

But that would mean putting principles ahead of likes and shares, which isn’t something a terminally online 43-year-old is likely to do. So instead, we’re more likely to see Poilievre and the Conservatives continue to stay true to the conservatism they embody and seek to represent – incredibly angry and very online. Our democracy might be worse off, but at least the memes are plentiful.

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Thanks for this.......I didn't realize PP was an on line addict. Hard to imagine how those prolific posters would have time to govern. Or even the space to learn that governing is a far different task from politicking on line.