Elxn 43 wrap up: Last night on Twitter

In Canada, we survived our 43rd election, with the incumbent liberal government securing a minority parliament after a roller coaster 40 day campaign. Many election watchers were glued to their television sets, streaming video, or news websites last night in order to experience the results as they slowly rolled in. But how did voting day play out on Twitter? I tracked the two most popular election related hashtags: #elxn43 and #cdnpoli on Tweet Archivist to find out.

#cdnpoli most mentioned users

The most mentioned users Oct 21, 2019 from #cdnpoli. Collected with Tweet Archivist


As can be seen in the wordcloud above, opposition leader Andrew Scheer was more often mentioned in conjunction with the hashtag #cdnpoli than incumbent Justin Trudeau, or the other party leaders, Jagmeet Singh or Elizabeth May. Parody website The Beaverton was mentioned more often than other news sites. Notably, the Bloc Quebecois was the seventh most popular user mentioned in association with the hashtag #cdnpoli. This may be a reflection of the growing popularity of the Bloc, which manifested in the Quebec centric party winning more seats than expected this election.

#cdnpoli trending hashtags

Most popular hashtags associated with the election hashtag #cdnpoli. Collected with Tweet Archivist


Of course, the election specific hashtag #elxn43 was most often associated with the #cdnpoli hashtag, as well as expected tags like #canadavotes, #vote, and #canadaelection. More surprising is the presence of #ableg – the hashtag for the Alberta provincial legislature, which was the 15th most popular hashtag. And Denmark, which seems to be driven by retweets of a specific tweet about renewable energy in Denmark, posted by a user affiliated with Greenpeace who was urging people to vote for clean energy.

#elxn43 most mentioned users

Most mentioned users affiliated with the hashtag #elxn43 on Oct 21, 2019. Data collected from Tweet Archivist

Looking at the #elxn43 hashtag, Jagmeet Singh, NDP leader was the most mentioned user. Followed by the other leaders, with opposition leader Andrew Scheer getting a few more mentions than incumbent Trudeau. The parody news site The Beaverton was still the most mentioned news outlet. Other frequently mentioned users include candidates for each party, and the names of some of the political parties. Included are also Jason Kenney, who is the leader of the provincial conservatives in Alberta, and the user @FairQuestions who is a Vancouver writer who has accused environmental groups of being against the oil and gas industry in a deceitful way.

#elxn43 trending hashtags

The top hashtags affiliated with elxn43 on October 21, 2019. Collected from Tweet Archivist

for #elxn43, #cdnpoli was the top most mentioned co-occurring hashtag. Outside of election specific hashtags like #canadavotes, #electionscanada, and #canadvotes2019, notable hashtags include #trudeaumustgo, which was the 6th most popular hashtag, and #trudeaulesstuesday, which was the 10th most popular hashtag. Also notable? #alberta was in the top 20.

Did Twitter Activity Suggest the “Blue Wave”?

While the incumbent liberal government maintained official governing status this election, albeit with a minority instead of majority government, some pundits suggest that a blue wave of conservative voting swept through the prairie provinces allowing the conservative government to pick up several seats more than they had going into the election. Given the alberta and conservative party focus on Twitter during election night, can we say that Twitter presaged a blue wave?

Well.. maybe?

about 42% of Canadians are on Twitter, but fewer than that are regularly active on the site. We don’t know if Canadian Twitter users are more likely to vote than non-Twitter users, but we do know that journalists and political candidates tend to be more active on Twitter than regular users. It could be that journalists and political candidates with insider information were amplifying sentiment in Alberta and the other prairie provinces which was an accurate reflection of feelings on the ground. Or it could be somewhat of a coincidence that conservative sentiment was so prevalent on these hashtags during election night.

If we were judging by number of mentions alone, it certainly seems like the conservatives would have been the winning party. Interestingly enough, conservatives did get a slightly higher proportion of the popular vote than the incumbent liberals did, though it’s difficult to say how much of this is accurately reflected on Twitter, and whether the connection is due to more than chance alone.

What we can say is this: Twitter and other social media accounts have been accused of a left wing bias. If the Twitter activity on election night was any indication, this claim is unfounded. In fact, one could say that those opposed to what they see as left leaning policy are getting more traction on the platform if we look at trending mentions and hashtags co-occurring with popular election hashtags. Like other claims of a “left wing media” the idea that social platforms penalize users with right or conservative messages seems unfounded.

Elxn 43 wrap up: Last night on Twitter

#Elxn43: Welcome to the jungle

Canadian political parties have indicated that they intend to use new digital methods to reach potential voters in the upcoming election, including the use of text messaging campaigns.

“Jungle Cupcakes” by DixieBelleCupcakeCafe is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Great idea, I mean what could go wrong? New. Innovative Digital Campaigning – woo!

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#Elxn43: Welcome to the jungle

You Have Been Hacked

In a recent article by Tristan Harris, this design ethicist and former magician lays out the various ways that our psychological limitations have been taken advantage of by technology companies in order to create a compulsive media environment.

a person who has fallen asleep at their computer
“Sleepy hacker” by thomasbonte is licensed under CC by 2.0

These companies make money by ensuring we spend as much time on their platforms as possible so they use various tricks like creating an illusion of choice, hijacking our natural tendencies as social animals, and producing the compelling draw of variable rewards to capture and hold our attention. In his article, Harris makes suggestions for why each of these tactics is problematic for people, community, and society, and he also suggests different ways we could design and approach technology in our lives. I’d like to build on his ideas specifically with respect to weaponized misinformation and propaganda. Harris doesn’t really get into this in his article, but I’d like to suggest why I think the hacking of the human mind has left us far more vulnerable to this type of message manipulation.

Propaganda is not new, nor is the attempt of foreign powers to sow the seeds of division among the population of a country against which they are engaging in information ops. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, Russia helped to support the burgeoning human rights movement as a way to sow deep division and distrust of power. It’s a complicated relationship, and one that likely had both intended and unintended outcomes.

When social media platforms hack our brains for attention, they have also super charged the propaganda, misinformation and black ops tactics that were already being deployed at a slower grassroots scale. Just as we are wired to seek variable rewards from social media notifications, we are wired to respond to emotionally charged (particularly negative) posts. The human mind, evolutionary speaking, is optimized to ignore the mundane but attend to threats to ourselves or our tribes. Thus when we see a viral video showing a confrontation between two groups, one of whom we identify with, we will be likely to pay attention to the video and then share it with our tribe without thinking critically about what is not shown on the video.

This type of uncritical engagement with media is not particularly new either. As anyone who has taken a media studies class can tell you, we tend to trust what we see with our own eyes, which is why video is so successful a medium for building and reinforcing cultural norms. But as social media platforms use popularity and auto play to hold our attention, they also facilitate the spread of video, increasing the global scale at which they can effectively influence people’s views.

So as Harris points out, we are all being hacked for our attention. And as the companies hack our brains, they pave the way for propagandists to do so as well. This adds additional weight to Harris’ call for a social media bill of rights, and I would add, suggests that we need to carefully think through the question of regulation for platforms and whether we need to develop an international and enforceable standard of practice.

You Have Been Hacked

A Media Ecology of Online Misinformation: What can Postman teach us?

We are living in what some call an era of unprecedented global information flows. Participatory online communication technologies such as social media have allowed anyone with access to the internet to upload information for anyone else can see. Though not everyone participates as an active prosumer of information, enough people do that we are overwhelmed with information. 300 videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute, five new Facebook profiles are created every second, and every second about 6,000 tweets are posted to Twitter. The numbers are mind boggling.

Street art depicting a boy in a striped shirt sitting on a partially open laptop computer
“Information overload! #streetart #berlin” by Acid Midget is licensed under CC by 2.0

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A Media Ecology of Online Misinformation: What can Postman teach us?

The Data Divide: Who Gets to Know About You?

According to recent research at the Social Media Lab in Toronto, Canada, Canadians are somewhat comfortable with academic researchers accessing their social media data. 56% of Canadians indicate that they are ok with their data being used for academic research purposes. In contrast, only 34% of Canadians feel comfortable with marketers accessing their social media data, but this discomfort is unfortunately at odds with the way social media companies make money, meaning every day Canadians are exposing themselves to the groups which they don’t really (when asked) want to access their data.

A subway platform with the words "mind the gap" written on the floor
“Mind The Gap” by Allen Brewer is licensed under CC by 2.0

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The Data Divide: Who Gets to Know About You?

21st Century PR: When All Else Fails, Pretend You’re a Journalist

Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about fake news, biased journalism, and journalists as “very bad people“, the very people complaining the loudest about the press seem to be those who are most adept at manipulating it. Take for example, the current President of the United States, who employs a combination of direct to consumer social media tactics, and also maintains strong relationships with non-professiona,l we-cannot-really-call-them (cough cough) news organizations like infowars, in order to perform the idea of news while supplanting the actual purpose entirely.

A yellow plastic fish caught in a net hangs against a grey cubicle wall
“Fake fish, fake lomo” by Patrick Fitzgerald. CC-BY 2.0. Available from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/barelyfitz/34407290

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21st Century PR: When All Else Fails, Pretend You’re a Journalist

What is the Future of Local News?

We see it all across North America and the UK: small local news outlets are shutting down, or are bought out and amalgamated into much larger regional or national outlets. At first this doesn’t seem to be of much consequence. If local news outlets do not make money, perhaps the laws of the marketplace should dictate their demise. And without them, we can perhaps still share the information that is important to our communities using social media platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter, right?

A picture of a couple of local newspapers "The Sunday Times" and "The Sunday Business Post"
“Local Sunday News” by Bernard Goldbach is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Well maybe the local news situation is actually more complex than we might first think. Maybe there is some information that simply isn’t provided when local news outlets shut down. And maybe social media isn’t picking the slack in all cases, but rather exacerbating the problem. Well I, in partnership with a team of ace researchers from the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre wanted to find out the answers to these questions, so last year, we invited academics around the world to participate in a conference on the subject of local news and it’s future. Then we took the best submitted papers from that conference, along with some student journalism on the subject of Canadian local news, and we put together an interactive online publication: The Future of Local News: Research and Reflections.

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What is the Future of Local News?

New Article Out: The Instagram #Climate Change Community

Recently, Dr. Ann Dale, researcher Brigitte Petersen and I conducted a study in which we looked at the hashtag community formed by people who post using the tag #ClimateChange on Instagram. We wanted to see whether this community showed evidence of the potential for community agency, that is to say, do the posts related to this hashtag seem like content that could, under the right circumstances, inspire community action around the issue of global warming?

“Social change not climate change” by Global Justice Now is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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New Article Out: The Instagram #Climate Change Community

Civil Society: Gone to the Bots?

Civil society is defined by the London School of Economics as:

“Civil Society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, family, and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, family and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups”

I’d like to put the emphasis on “uncoerced collective action” in that definition, because I’d like to talk about how civil society might be challenged or at least threatened in an era where we organize using digital communication technologies.

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Civil Society: Gone to the Bots?

Celebrity “trumps” truth: The key difference between the liberal press and Twitter

Today, The Verge published an article stating that Twitter has drawn a small line in the sand with respect to the tweeting habits of the 45 president of the United States. Adi Robertson reports that Twitter has suggested that while it is important not to censor or remove important public figures like the president from the platform, it will draw the line at “tweets that reveal a private address or phone number”. Of course, not all people agree with this stand. For example, Sam Harris clearly stated in a recent podcast that he thinks Trump should be banned from Twitter, since the damage he can do via a Tweet is just so great. Twitter’s response though, is one worth considering. When is it appropriate to silence a public figure on a platform like Twitter? And when is it actually in the public interest to support a person’s right to make even crazy or patently false claims on the site?

A tweet made my Donald Trump in which he complains about fake news
A tweet made by Donald Trump: Picture from “Mother Jones” http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/02/donald-trump-edits-tweet/





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Celebrity “trumps” truth: The key difference between the liberal press and Twitter