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

CRIMESTOPPERS: Williams Lake RCMP seek public’s assistance

Williams Lake RCMP released three names of people they are looking for

CRD board on the road travels to Tatla Lake

Broadband, plastics, cycling, grants for assistance and economic development were on the agenda

How closely are you following the federal election?

The weekly web poll for the 100 Mile Free Press

Treasure in Lone Butte: woman discovers time capsule while metal-detecting

A White Rock woman is eager to complete a South Cariboo treasure hunt from 2002

Three local schools see registration numbers drop for 2019-2020 school year

Despite some local schools experiencing a registration drop, others saw their student body increase

VIDEO: Liberals make child care pledge, Greens unveil platform on Day 6 of campaign

Green party leader Elizabeth May unveils her party’s platform in Toronto

Winnipeg student, killed in bus crash, remembered as passionate, kind

University of Victoria student Emma Machado, 18, was killed in the bus crash near Bamfield on Friday

Boy overdosed on illicit anti-anxiety drug found on Kelowna classroom floor, RCMP say

Noah Mills, 8, ingested a pink powdery substance off his Kelowna classroom floor

Fewer trees, higher costs blamed for devastating downturn in B.C. forestry

Largest driving factor is the province’s complex stumpage system that results in high fees, expert says

20 day search for missing Labradoodle in Princeton, B.C. ends with tears of joy

The search brought out bloodhounds, and groups hoping to find Mordy

Canucks sign Brock Boeser to three-year, US$17.6-million deal

Young sniper will be in Vancouver Tuesday

B.C. forest industry looks to a high-technology future

Restructuring similar to Europe 15 years ago, executive says

RCMP conclude investigation into 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire

Files have been turned over to BC Prosecution Service

Most Read