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

Central Okanagan Search & Rescue looking for new members

A COSAR information night is Thursday at Okanagan College

Rockets host tailgate party ahead of anticipated home-opener

Kelowna takes the ice for the first game of the season Saturday

‘Fantastic’ redevelopment of former industrial site pleases Kelowna city council

Councillors offer rare rave reviews of two planned office/commercial buildings

Lake Country resident takes gold at 55+ games

Les Gilbert demonstrated a dominant at the men’s singles championship 55+ games

RBC donates $40,000 to help connect youth with employers

The funding goes towards helping the YMCA Connects program to prepare young adults for the working world

VIDEO: Police investigate after intoxicated teens clash with security at B.C. fair

18-year-old woman arrested and RCMP looking at possible assault in Victoria-area fall fair incident

Prosecutors to consider charges in human-caused 2017 B.C. wildfire

RCMP forwards results of its investigation into Elephant Hill fire to Crown counsel

B.C. offers early retirement, training fund for forest workers

Communities eligible for $100,000 for permanent closures

B.C. land needed for Trans Mountain pipeline owned by man who died in 1922

Trans Mountain is looking for heirs so it can gain access to 500 square feet of land

PHOTO: Nanaimo RCMP officer ‘walks on water’ to rescue lost camper

66-year-old assisted earlier this month by Mounties who can seemingly work miracles

South Okanagan adventure park brightens seniors’ day with flowers

The many flowers that bloom in LocoLanding during the summer brighten the day for seniors

East Coast comedian Ron James bringing ‘Full Throttle Tour’ to Okanagan

James is at work on the first draft of his first book, ‘All Over the Map’

Mobile needle exchange considered in Okanagan

City looks at options to combat issues of discarded needles

Province investigating eviction at Shuswap assisted living facility

Residential Tenancy Branch looking into situation affecting low-income senior residents

Most Read