So, I just want people to maybe think about that. Think about my story when you’re faced with that and bring that kind of empathy.
Digital hate, harassment, and violence hurts so many women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans, and non-binary people. Content creators who address gender justice like Fallon Farinacci have a lot to teach us about it.
I’m Andrea Gunraj from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Welcome to Alright, Now What? a podcast from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder, “why is this still happening?” We explore systemic roots and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
The work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and our partners takes place on traditional First Nations, Métis, and Inuit territories. We are grateful for the opportunity to meet and work on this land, however, we recognize that land acknowledgements are not enough. We need to pursue truth, reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship, in an ongoing effort to make right with all our relations.
Whether you’re on social media, streaming platforms, dating, messaging and meeting apps, or on game sites, if you’re a woman, girl, or Two Spirit, trans, or non-binary person, you’re at greater risk of hate, harassment, and violence.
There are good resources out there designed to help you better respond and take care of yourself in situations of gendered digital hate and harassment. Right to Be says there is “no right or perfect response to harassment.” Their online harassment survival guide says it’s ok to feel vulnerable and turn to your support network when you need it. They talk about how important it is to feel connected in your offline life.
I often think about research that shows how people who harass and hate don’t often do it from a place of power. They often do it from a place of feeling powerless. It’s no excuse for hurting others, and our perceptions of our own power can get easily distorted.
But what keeps us grounded? Helps us respond in better ways? Caring, community. If we all had more access to caring community – connections that uphold human rights and dignity and positively challenge us to do the same – experiences of hate, harassment, and abuse would not be so commonplace.
Over coming months, we are delving into gendered digital hate and harassment with leading experts and content creators, releasing in-depth episodes every single week. We talk about the problem and what we can do to change it. We offer practical tips to help you in your digital life and we talk about what it means to “take back the tech” for all of us.
Our guest, Fallon Farinacci is Red River Métis and a child survivor, advocate, and speaker for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQIA+ people.
Fallon testified in the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, sharing her story of loss and trauma. Fallon joined the National Family Advisory Circle, where she worked closely with other affected family members and the commissioners for the National Inquiry. Fallon continues to share her family story and brings awareness to ongoing genocide Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit people face in hopes of bringing change across Turtle Island.
A note about content: this episode addresses gender-based violence and suicide.
My name is Fallon Farinacci. My spirit name is White Thunder Woman. The Elder who gifted me my name said that I’m here to make a lot of noise. When he first gave it to me, I share this quite often, I had no idea what that meant. I thought, whoa, that’s a big name to fill those shoes.
I wasn’t quite sure what it meant and at that point I had been sharing my story, I had been using my voice, but I think it was at a point where I wasn’t aware of it. You know, when you’re sitting on — you’re in it, but kind of sitting on the sidelines and then you have other people that kind of tell you, “No, you’re actually doing it, you’ve been doing it for a while.” That was kind of how I came to realize my name. And so now, now I say, I do just that; I use my voice to bring awareness and to advocate as well.
So, I am a child survivor of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, 2S+. I testified for the National Inquiry in 2017. I shared my story of loss and trauma with the nation at the age of nine years old. I witnessed my parents’ double murder suicide at the hands of my mother’s stalker. My father was Indigenous. I am Indigenous, I’m Métis, a Red River Métis — very proud. My father instilled that in me at a young age — my whole life, I guess I should say. And my mother was non-Indigenous. My mother’s stalker was Indigenous, and it was a family friend, someone we knew.
I grew up with my parents. They raised myself and my two brothers in a rural Indigenous community just West of Winnipeg. It’s called St. Eustache, Manitoba, holding strong at 300 people, and it still is very much a very vibrant, proud Métis community.
I’m privileged, I get to go home to Manitoba. I have a connection to my home, while I was displaced after my parents passed away at nine and I had to move to Ontario because this is where my guardian, my mother’s side of the family was from.
I still remain connected and there are a lot of folks out there who something like this might happen to them at a young age and then they get displaced from their community, and they lose all sense of knowing who they are. While I say I’m privileged, I also lost a huge part of my own identity and had to reclaim that for myself because no one else would do that for me.
So now I do reside in Niagara on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe people. I raise my three children here with my husband.
We are connected here with the Indigenous community here. However, when it’s not your community, there’s still a difference, right? Like, I still bring my children home. We just went home, actually, this past winter to Manitoba. So, my kids could experience a Red River Métis Family Day or Louis Riel Day, there. So, I do what I can here to have them involved and to be connected. But ultimately, you know, like my own journey, I’m realizing that’s also something that they’re going have to navigate and figure out on their own. And I have to support them in whatever reconnection or reclaiming that they want to do beyond what, you know, of course, they come along with me to gatherings and traditional things.
So, that’s a little bit about me. I’m a speaker/advocate and from speaking and sharing my story, we went to social media with that. I had this idea in 2021, that I would start a fundraiser. And that was really the catalyst to my online presence. I wanted to start a fundraiser, not for myself, for two Indigenous organizations, one here in Niagara and one in Manitoba. The goal was to raise $3800. That was to signify the fact that I would be the first person in my family to reach the age of 38. Both my parents died before they were 38 and then, unfortunately, years later, my older brother committed suicide, as well, from the lack of mental health support.
I wanted to shift that survivor’s guilt that I would be living with, knowing that I would be living with that, that year specifically. And so, I started this fundraiser and it, in the most beautiful way, blew up. I say this about social media. It is a beautiful place, but obviously it is a dark place. For the awareness that it brought and spread for the fundraiser and for MMIWG2S+, I’m grateful for the power of social media — for those two things. And to date we’ve raised over $100,000. I continue to try to show up in community, where I can, and to bring awareness and just use my voice.
We’ve been speaking to several feminist content creators who get so much hate and harassment in their work online. How do you deal with it in your public work? How do you respond?
It’s not an easy space to navigate by any means. You can definitely get pulled into those negative comments and at the end of the day I try to meet those comments, or those private messages, not at their level, because that for me would be what would pull me away from doing this work.
If I had to, or if I chose to answer and, and that’s fine, there are some people that that is exactly how they want to answer and by all means, sometimes you have to meet them where they’re at, because it’s just, you know, where you’re also at in that moment. And so, I think a lot of times people have to remember that if you ever see someone of influence with social media and they’re reacting and you think, “Oh, that just doesn’t seem like them, they would maybe normally come at them, at that person, with logic or, you know, statistics”, you have to remember this is a hard space to navigate and we have no idea what that person is going through.
They might have said that morning to themselves, like I’ve said many a times throwing my hands up in the air, I can’t do this anymore. This is emotionally taking a toll on me. And then you’re met with that kind of comment, right? So, you have to remember that.
But for the most part, I try to just use my voice to educate them. If I feel as though it’s not going to go anywhere, that they really aren’t willing to answer or to hear my answer, I will just leave it at that. A lot of times you just have to. I know a lot of creators do this, they block and delete, and they have to leave that for their own peace of mind.
I think that works, but then at the same time we have to remember we’re here to try to shift people’s thoughts and the way that they think and their mindsets. So at least for me, sometimes trying to give the perspective, even of myself, I never try to speak for other people, when I’m coming online and I’m answering something negative someone has said. I just try to come at it from my own perspective.
I’ve had, you know, folks look at me and just from the way I look, I acknowledge I’m white passing — immediately, I get that violence. And I also kind of sit with that and realize that there are folks out there who get the other end of the racism, right? So, me being called out on white passing, I have to acknowledge that that’s also a privilege in that moment, right?
So, it’s hard, but sitting with those comments and also coming at it from a point of view of where is that person coming from? What are they living with? Why would they say this? I guess at the end of the day, trying to have understanding and that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt by any means, right? And that it’s something you can roll off your shoulders. But I do think that we would go a long way in life in this world, if we just stop for a second and not react immediately.
Do I think it’s OK? And I’m not saying that by any means. That is my reaction and how I answer it is to keep my own peace of mind. That’s not to say that I’m uplifting someone by saying that, by deleting it or blocking or, you know, not coming at them with, like, a very harsh answer, which is the truth, right, coming at them. I still come at them with the truth. But I’m doing it in a way that’s protecting my own peace, which I think ultimately is the most important thing someone can do online.
I know we look at content creators and think they’re so strong and have thick skin to deal with all of this. But strength can be a myth and even a trap. And it takes a lot to be strong.
Yeah, I think a part of that is also ensuring if I’m going to be strong, have a strong voice, doesn’t mean first and foremost that I’m strong all the time.
Acknowledging that and saying, you know, if people see me online and they’re like, “Oh, you’re so strong and so you know, it’s so inspiring”. It’s like, yeah, but I’m going to share with you the days that bring me down, because it is hard. And having that strong voice, the only way for me I can have a strong voice is if I am supporting myself, if I’m doing the things that fill me up, that support my mental health.
Because when I’m not supporting my mental health and I’m not doing the things, and I’ll talk about what the things are in a moment, then I know right away. At, you know, at the end of the fundraiser, I use this as an example, it was, like, “oh, you must have felt so great, you must have felt no survivors guilt because you raised X amount of dollars”.
No, that’s not how it works. That teetered off and then I was still left to sit with those emotions. And I thought, this is a very dark place, and I shared that online with people because I want them to see that. I think it’s important, you have to be open, you know, we have these platforms and if I’m not being honest, if I’m always saying I’m, like, up, up, up, that’s, I mean, that’s not realistic.
If there is someone out there that can do advocacy and this line of work and just always be on, great for you. But I don’t believe that that’s true. I reflected. I, actually, you know, flipped the lens and looked at myself and I thought, OK, what are the things that you’re not doing right now? And at the time it was, I wasn’t drumming, I wasn’t getting out to community events. I had started to kind of pull back a little.
I thought, OK, no, I need to do the things that pulled me along, that uplifted me—I shouldn’t say pulled—that uplifted me, so that I could do that work and be surrounded by community and friends.
And I’ll be honest, yesterday I was thinking, OK, you got to get back to those things. Summer was great, but you weren’t, like, doing all the community things. You went to ceremony a couple times, but you weren’t doing all of the things and that doesn’t work. You know, that doesn’t make you a strong person.
You can hear it in people’s voices I think sometimes when it’s like, oh, they’re so strong and then you’re like, hmm, there’s something in there, what is that? So, I know. And it’s not easy. You know, someone’s going to hear this and be like, oh, I wish I could realize, I’m in the thick of it when I realize that I need to be doing those things and how do I pull out of it?
You can’t always, right? So, you just have to — it’s a new muscle that I’m constantly learning to use.
What I’m hearing is that being embedded in community is essential to your well-being when you’re using your voice in digital spaces.
For me, for instance, right, being within the Indigenous community, while I’m in that, I will find people who have, who use ceremony, drumming, you know, like traditional ways to help themselves along this journey. And then in that I’ll be having those conversations, and we all love to network. I was saying this yesterday. We all love to network, like, just naturally. When we’re in these groups of people that, you know, maybe it’s your line of work that you do, or if you’re not working within advocacy and this is something that you’re doing on the side, we just naturally end up meeting people that — or introducing each other to people — that can really help uplift and support.
You can’t do this alone. Yes, I’m using my voice, but nothing about what I’m doing is alone. It is being with community. So, finding those people, those organizations, you know, maybe you’re not in advocacy work right now already, but you’re wanting to do some sort of work along that. Find an organization and see what kind of events they have coming up.
OK, to be completely honest, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, I get the emails. From that, I find community in the words, in the writing, right? And I’m finding out about maybe things that are happening or projects that are going on.
It helps support you and your mental health, your capacity, your way of thinking, because you’re not alone. And for someone that, like, a mother or caregiver who maybe can’t get out to these things, but it is a passion and it’s something that they really want to be involved in, but they can’t actually physically go and be involved, these are great ways to still be a part of a community.
Your perspective of getting grounded in community is so refreshing.
When we face any form of abuse, harassment, and hatred, online or otherwise, it makes us feel alone. It’s designed to pull us apart and isolate us. Building community and shared experience can be a tool to protect us.
When I was asked to testify or it was brought up, sorry, that I could testify for the Inquiry, I journeyed along the entire Inquiry and then afterwards, as a part of the National Family Advisory Circle, feeling imposter syndrome as to why I was there.
My father was Indigenous. We were talking about MMIWG2S+. We were talking about women and gender diverse folks. Why was I there? My mom was non-Indigenous. So, I didn’t quite understand.
It wasn’t until the closing ceremonies that I grabbed my husband’s leg and I whispered to him. We were literally, quite literally, presenting the nation with the final report, and I said, “I get it”. And he said, “you get what?”
I said, “I’m the girl — I was never supposed to be here, I’m the girl”.
And when I tell people this, they’re like, “but what do you mean like, it was your story, you lived it, you know, you were the girl that was displaced from the community, you lived all of this”. But people have to remember, it is working, it’s done in a way to isolate you and make you feel that way on purpose in a, unfortunately, perfect way.
A lot of folks don’t even realize it, that they are living it, that there is an outside of it. I didn’t. I just thought that was the life I was handed, and I was completely alone and cool, that’s how you’re going to live your life. So, I can’t imagine the amount of folks that go through violence and live in danger and abuse all the time without the knowing of it.
So, it is important that we talk and that we share these things and that we have these communities. Because, you know, as much as it matters for racialized folks that we have representation matters, representation matters also for the day-to-day of what people are enduring and that they can see that other folks maybe lived it and that they’ve come out of it.
What do you think needs to change to end digital hate, harassment, and abuse? How do we go about challenging it?
How do we fight against this? Well, first of all, I wish there was no fight, that in 2023 this was not a conversation that was being had. The amount of times I actually want to throw my hands up in the air. Really, if you think about the amount of times we’ve heard over, since, say, 2020 really, “Well it’s 2020 I can’t believe we’re still living through this, it’s 2021”.
You know, like, how long are we going to be saying this for? Yes, obviously policies and at the larger levels within these social media platforms, that’s where these changes need to come.
There has to stop being this availability for the other side of those community people to come together and to feel safe in what they are saying, because that’s ultimately what is happening. They feel safe and comfortable in these online spaces that they can say these things.
Just as much as we have community that gathers together for beautiful, vibrant, traditional things, it makes me very aware that there are ways for these folks to come together in other ways and to share their — I’m sorry, I’m just going to say — disgusting views.
For me, I was taught this a long time ago from an Elder that said that change happens at the kitchen table. And I thought that was so beautiful. It’s especially beautiful because I’m sure this is in many Indigenous cultures, however, in our Indigenous culture, in Métis, folks, we come together around the kitchen table and stories are told and it’s so beautiful and it’s a way for connection. And so, if we have those conversations there, that’s where change happens.
As much as it might be difficult to have those conversations that you have to and realize that you’re going to have those conversations with loved ones. And they might be the people that you struggle with the hardest, and that’s OK. But we have to continue to have those conversations, ultimately.
I appreciate the empathy you bring to responding to the difficulties of digital spaces. I don’t think we talk enough about empathy as an element of safety and justice. We simply can’t have safety and justice and freedom without human empathy and understanding. And it’s not necessarily natural for us. We have to be intentional and think systemically about it, too.
You know, I feel like this is a little redundant that you hear from, since you’re probably a child — you have no idea what that person is going through on the other side of the internet, what they grew up in. Is this their belief, or is this their point of view? Those are two very different things, in my mind.
Maybe this will help, if you’ve ever heard my full story, you know, I said at the beginning of the podcast, I shared about my parents and how they were both killed. I witnessed their deaths at the hand of my mother’s stalker. It was a man I knew. And in no way am I saying what he did was OK. I would 1000% want justice had he not committed suicide. I mean, I still want justice. There’s much more to my story that folks… obviously, I didn’t share. However, he did commit suicide.
I can’t do the work that I do without bringing up the issue of what led him to do the things he did. Where was his mental health? Who was supporting him? He had 13 prior convictions. Where along the way did the system just think, let’s just let this individual keep coasting? Where did his drug and alcohol-related issues come from?
Was it part of colonization as an Indigenous man? What was it that he went through as a child? Were his parents a product of some sort of institution, of the residential schools, the 60s scoop? What kind of abuse did they endure? Was it racism that was embedded in him to be filled with this kind of hate?
So, when you’re answering, or you’re seeing these comments on the other side, I’m not giving them an excuse, by any means. But you can’t be on the other side — I cannot be here saying the things I say — without bringing issue to the fact that he himself would have went through the same thing that I went through. The fact that the RCMP fell back asleep and didn’t come to our home for six hours to rescue us in an Indigenous community. He was a part of that community as well.
So, I just want people to maybe think about that. Think about my story when you’re faced with that and bring that kind of empathy. Yeah, I know that’s a very heavy way of looking at it, but I think we, a lot of times, forget that we are all humans here navigating this and it’s important that we realize that we are all part of these systems that were put in place.
Maybe even think about that person as their younger self. And your younger self meeting them. And what kind of empathy would you as a child give that child if you knew what they were going through or had went through?
Alright, now what? Check out Fallon Farinacci on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook, @FallonFarinacci, and visit her website fallonfarinacci.com.
Get the facts on gendered digital hate, harassment, and abuse by visiting our fact page on canadianwomen.org.
While you’re there, read about our new Feminist Creator Prize to uplift feminist digital creators advocating for gender justice, safety, and freedom from harm.
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