The Twitter app on a mobile phone. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke

Canadians are politically polarized, but social media likely not culprit: study

‘People on Twitter are not representative of the broader population’

Social media might not be to blame for Canadians’ ideological polarization, a new report on digital democracy in Canada finds.

The latest findings are from an ongoing effort led by the Public Policy Forum and McGill University’s Max Bell School of Public Policy called the Digital Democracy Project.

“A lot of people don’t use social media very actively,” said reseracher Eric Merkley. “People on Twitter are not representative of the broader population.”

Instead, the study argues polarization in Canada arises partly from intense party loyalty and how far apart Canada’s political parties are, meaning party positions are an important factor.

Also, researchers found that people did not appear to make meaningful distinctions in their views between politicians from opposing parties and their supporters.

“This is troubling,” the study says, because it suggests “polarization does not just influence people’s opinions about the parties, but also how they view ordinary Canadians.” Each other, in other words.

Researchers found evidence that Canadians are “affectively polarized” — they feel negatively towards other people simply for being part of the opposing group.

READ MORE: Use of fake social media bots in Alberta election will come to federal vote, experts say

That was based on three measures, including the levels of warmth participants in the study feel for their ideological comrades and opponents; how much they associate their allies and opponents with positive and negative traits; and how comfortable they feel with having someone from an opposing ideology as a neighbour, friend or relative.

“Partisans have substantially colder and more negative feelings about ideologically opposed parties, compared to those that are ideologically proximate,” and also see opposed parties as “more socially distant,” the study says.

The study goes on to note that though Canadians do seem to be polarized, it’s probably not our use of social media that is causing the divide.

Based on an analysis of the activity of about 50,000 Twitter accounts, the Digital Democracy Project researchers found evidence supporting the theory that users tend to create “filter bubbles” for themselves. Very few partisans, it found, follow information sources from other parties.

But the study suggests the echo chambers do not extend far beyond Twitter.

By comparing the Twitter data to information gleaned from the survey, researchers also found just 16 per cent of Canadians are exposed to strongly partisan news sources. A tiny fraction — fewer than one per cent — get more than half their news from “partisan-congenial” outlets.

RELATED: Elizabeth May predicts ‘likely’ more Greens elected in Greater Victoria

Most Canadians still engage broadly with mainstream news sources, the study suggests.

If media consumption is not to blame for polarization, the answer the study offers instead is that “the biggest driver of polarization seems to be ideology and partisanship themselves.”

Strong partisans have much more intense feelings towards opposing parties than weak partisans, the study finds.

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Lest We Forget

Remembrance Day service in Rimbey well attended

Long-term outlook for Ponoka County finances still up in the air

Big hit taken via refunds for shallow gas producers

Black Press Extreme Education and Career Fair coming to Red Deer College’s Cenovus Learning Commons

Central Albertans can connect with employers on Nov. 28 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

New phone scam, police warn to BEWARE

RCMP offer tips to stay safe

Petition to ‘bring back Don Cherry’ goes viral after immigrant poppy rant

Cherry was fired from his co-hosting role for the Coach’s Corner segment on Nov. 11.

Imperial CEO says no to Aspen oilsands project until Alberta oil quotas gone

Imperial confirmed a plan to boost production from its Kearl oilsands mine

Three men charged after ‘targeted’ shooting, evacuation at Alberta mall

The accused, who range in age from 25 to 37, were arrested Sunday and remain in custody

VIDEO: Don Cherry says he was fired, not sorry for ‘Coach’s Corner’ poppy rant

Cherry denies he was singling out visible minorities with his comments

Disney Plus streaming service hits Canada with tech hurdles

Service costs $8.99 per month, or $89.99 per year, in Canada

Trudeau’s opponents: One gives him an earful, another seeks common ground

PM meets with Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe

Rona’s ‘truly Canadian’ ads are inaccurate, watchdog says

Ads Standards points out U.S.-based Lowe’s acquired Rona in 2016

Brian Burke considered favourite to replace Don Cherry

Brian Burke is the 5-4 pick to be the full-time replacement next season

Most Read