One of Toronto’s favourite alternative media outlets has become home to a growing consumer base of unmoderated misinformation, anti-vax propaganda and support for right-wing politics.
The growing digital brand, 6ixBuzz, calls itself the “top outlet for everything Canadian,” with two million followers for its Instagram account, 6ixbuzztv.
6ixBuzz has the “pulse of Toronto,” according to DMZ, a business incubation program at Ryerson University that had partnered with 6ixBuzz, according to a now deleted blog post on the DMZ website.
Toronto residents Sarman Esagholian and Abraham Tekabo started the page in 2017 while they were students at George Brown College. It had a focus on Toronto memes, hip-hop and other cultural content appealing to young people. They’ve promoted Toronto’s underground hip-hop community, turning artists like Pressa Armani and Smiley into up-and-comers in the rap game.
“We just really want people to know that we are very cultured, very into the scene and the industry,” the 6ixBuzz told DailyHive team in an interview. “We’re always learning and trying to grow this city.”
But in the weeks leading up to the recent federal election, 6ixBuzz’s comment section predominantly featured posts promoting far-right politics, including People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidates.
Esagholian and Tekabo haven’t publicly commented on their platforming of anti-mask and anti-vax protesters, notorious figures like Marcella (Chair Girl) Zola, and the increasing visibility of far-right ideology on their pages.
6ixBuzz has not responded to messages from the Toronto Observer requesting comment on these issues and promotion of the PPC.
Though PPC support never surpassed seven per cent support in national polls leading up to the election, they witnessed a steady increase in Google search results, fluctuating between first and third place in Google Trends’ ranking of the most searched political parties before election day.
The party has been criticized for preaching ideologies similar to those held by far-right advocates, with topics such as vaccine passports, firearms, and alleged censorship all being key talking points.
Censorship has been charged as some news outlets have decided to refrain from publishing information about the party. Some have also avoided giving a voice to people like Chris Sky and other anti-vax figures, so as to slow the spread of misinformation.
6ixBuzz is not one of those outlets.
The brand has never chosen to stray from news that other outlets would consider risky or controversial, instead playing the tune of a brand focused on free-speech and opposed to censorship.
Political leaders like Ontario Premier Doug Ford have granted the page credibility, by not only following the outlet, but by actively commenting on posts and interacting with other members. Ford’s deputy chief of staff, Amin Massoudi, went so far as to say that he sees an “alignment” between the message of the Ford government and certain 6ixBuzz posts during an interview with iPolitics.
But users have decided to unfollow 6ixBuzz because of what they perceive as misinformation and hate speech in the comment sections.
“They try to get people’s attention through sensationalist headlines that skew right or at least dogwhistle for hateful controversy,” says Agha Saadaf, a University of Toronto socio-cultural anthropology major and Dalhousie University law student who stopped following 6ixBuzz.
“With how much they enjoy the attention from Doug Ford to boost their likes and views, they have every incentive to allow far-right ideology to flourish,” he says.
Far-right ideology and conspiracy theories run rampant on their page, with frequent verified community engagers spreading blatant misinformation with extreme visibility. On almost any post concerning the pandemic, the most engaged with and liked comments will regularly feature anti-vax and far-right ideology.
Posts about Chris Sky and videos of anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine passport protests are met with support, commenters often showing solidarity, whereas content featuring Eileen de Villa, Teresa Tam, and Justin Trudeau are met with angry mobs and skepticism. All this, without moderation.
The platform has also been criticized by other mainstream media outlets for inciting racism, homophobia, and transphobia in their comment section, with many claiming the page is openly instigating hateful discourse. One such instance came at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the 6ixbuzztv Instagram page shared a post about a Chinese restaurant in Markham, Wuhan Noodle.
A post about Laurel Hubbard, the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics, was met with immense amounts of transphobia. The loudest voice belonged to those questioning her womanhood, as well as the propagation of misogynist ideology.
Their lack of moderation has led to the creation of an echo chamber within the community.
“Free speech is one thing but it seemed like 6ixBuzz was catering their content to a far-right audience deliberately,” says John Roughley, a nurse who unfollowed the page after its continued platforming of Chris Sky. “All perspectives have the right to free speech but when content is as one-sided as theirs, some perspectives seem louder and more numerous.”
The majority of the content was Black content designed to uplift and acknowledge disenfranchised groups. Comedy, music, and user-generated videos often featuring Black Torontonians. 6ixBuzz’s origins as a meme page often featured videos with locally branded comedy, memes with a specific eye on Toronto’s culture.
6ixBuzz features predominantly Black Torontonian content. Hip-hop, videos with Black Toronto slang, Black memes. But they also featured a lot of videos of Black Torontonians struggling with poor mental health, substance abuse issues, and those struck by poverty.
These videos weren’t made to generate awareness of somewhat deplorable situations, rather they were made as comedy and entertainment pieces of content.
These beginnings as a platform call into question the relationship they share with Ryerson University’s DMZ, the school’s business incubator meant to help launch early-stage start-ups.
In the now-deleted blog post on the DMZ’s website, it’s stated that “6ixBuzz is a proud member of the DMZ Black Innovation Programs.”
The Toronto Observer reached out to the DMZ both via email and through Instagram on their current relationship with 6ixBuzz. The queries were left unanswered, though the blog post in question, mentioned in the email, was promptly deleted the next day.
The official address for 6ixBuzz is 10 Dundas St. E., the same building that houses Ryerson’s DMZ, but no affiliation between 6ixBuzz and the DMZ is noted. They don’t mention the social media page on their current or former start-ups.
The growth of a platform like 6ixBuzz and the rise of a political party like the PPC might seem to be a contradiction.
“I think Toronto is still a largely more progressive city, and I don’t think 6ixBuzz, despite how much reach it has can overturn that,” Saadaf said. “While it does pose the risk of pushing people down the far-right pipeline, I think it also largely brings far-righters out of the woodwork.”