Both Sides Now: Social Media and the Wet’suwet’en Protests

Image Credit: “The Spirit of Resistance” by Gord Hill

For the sake of decency, I have chosen not to share some of the more extreme social media posts which I stumbled across related to this issue.

For the past several weeks, Canadian news coverage has been bursting with stories about protests in support of Wet’suwet’en First Nation Hereditary Chiefs and their opposition to construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their traditional territory in British Columbia. Every media outlet has written articles about the protests by the Hereditary Chiefs, local protests across the country, and the blockade of rail lines by Kahnawake First Nations protesters near Belleville, Ontario.

The media coverage has saturated the airwaves and on social media, there is enough blame to go around for everyone involved. Several “camps” have developed both in favour of and in opposition to the Hereditary Chiefs, ones in favour and opposed to the rail blockades, ones which are blaming the Provincial government for the situation and ones which blame the Federal government. And in the midst of all of these disparate voices, posts to social media both in favour and opposed to whichever issue you are concerned with, and the vitriol to back it up. For the most part, the media has done their best to remain impartial and unbiased, but there are some media outlets from both ends of the political spectrum which are attempting to sow even further division.

The Coastal GasLink story touches on a number of contentious issues in Canada; pipelines and environmental protection, indigenous sovereignty, reconciliation, racism towards Indigenous people, western alienation, and political divisions. While everyone involved is trying to get their message across, social media has a tendency to muddy the waters by taking comments out of context, inflating certain details and injecting their own biases and preconceptions. As a result, the comments being shared are more and more extreme. Searching for #Wetsuwetan on any social media platform will bring up posts calling for negotiations between the parties affected, the abandonment of the pipeline project, or even military intervention to break up protests.

One of the greatest issues is the degree of confusion over who has the final decision-making authority in the region. There are the elected members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation council, and there are also the Hereditary Chiefs, who are not elected. The council along with other First Nations along the path of the pipeline support its construction, while the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are opposed to any construction within their traditional territory. First People’s Law have created an explainer called “The Wet’suwet’en, Aboriginal Title, and the Rule of Law” to explain it a lot better than I can. Until there is a resolution which may be seen by all sides as a win, the protests will continue, the media will continue to write article after article, and those on social media will continue to sow dissent and hatred.

Both Sides Now: Social Media and the Wet’suwet’en Protests

Both Sides Now: Social Media and the Wet’suwet’en Protests

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