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Can Yoda help governments fight the pandemic?

Lisa Teichmann 08.12.20.

In a new paper from the Media Ecosystem Observatory “Public Health Communication and Engagement on Social Media during the COVID-19 Pandemic” (available in preprint here), we find that indeed the force may be with public health officials who adhere to certain communication strategies, some common sense and others counter-intuitive. The spread of COVID-19 has been met with an unprecedented and ongoing effort on the part of governments to communicate crucial public health information and policy directives to their publics. With rapidly evolving conditions and policies tailored to specific places and times, it’s important that governments reach as broad an audience as possible, especially as misinformation about the novel coronavirus continues to spread on social media, changing attitudes and behaviours.

The Health Canada and Public Health Agency of Canada published this graphic on May 4th 2020 alongside a text saying “Unwashed hands are the path to the dark side. Unwashed hands lead to germs; germs lead to illness; illness leads to suffering. This #StarWars day and every day, #washyourhands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. #MayThe4thBeWithYou #COVID19.” It received almost ten times more likes and shares than expected!

Spearheading public health communication responses globally are numerous heads of state and region. In Canada, figures like the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premiers Doug Ford, and François Legault speak to millions of Canadians daily, in press conferences and social media posts. They are shared, linked to, discussed and liked across various social media platforms. These platforms in particular are integral mediators in the transfer of information about the pandemic from governments to citizens.

The Canadian government recognized this early on, promising to “expand existing communications and public education” in order “to ensure Canadians get trusted and accurate information”, with $50 million dedicated to communications capacity and public education efforts.” But what constitutes effective messaging?

In the wake of the spread of COVID-19 the public has been faced with a wave of misinformation and the abundance of contradicting instructions led to a spike in calling for clear communication. Especially in the recent weeks when many governments implemented rules for the mandatory facemask in closed spaces that also faced a lot of anti-mask protests, health communications have become even more crucial.

In our paper “Public Health Communication and Engagement on Social Media during the COVID-19 Pandemic” (available in preprint here) we demonstrate that making strategic use of media content paired with an appropriate social media platform may encourage citizens’ engagement with government information in times of crisis. We also provide advice for how practitioners across the Canadian government may be able to focus their social media crisis communication efforts to engage as many citizens as possible.

From the beginning of the pandemic until late May we collected public health related social media posts (Twitter and Facebook) from the accounts of the Prime Minister, leaders of provincial and territorial governments, and the mayors of large cities in Canada. In our cross platform and mixed-method analysis we identify four evidenced backed lessons for practitioners seeking to maximize engagement with their public health communications:

1. Who posts is more important than what is posted.
As our figure below shows, the Prime Minister, premiers, federal and provincial health accounts are clearly ahead of other government accounts when it comes to engagement with messages on Facebook and Twitter. The heads of governments have unparalleled opportunity and responsibility to communicate health information quickly.

2. Say it simple and clear!

We found that the most effective messages tend to be the simplest. Direct personal appeals from leaders to their constituents are among the most engaged with public health communications we observe, as in this tweet:

Stay home. It doesn’t matter that the weekend’s almost here - if you choose to gather in groups or hang out with your friends, you’re putting yourself, those around you, and our health care workers at risk. So take this seriously. Do the right thing and stay home this weekend. (@JustinTrudeau)

3. Creativity, media and media quality matters.

Be it calling out the dark side (of inadequate social distancing and hygiene), colorful explanations of best practices, or even summoning an army of celebrity influencers, public health communicators can assure their messages reach individuals far, far away by sharing high quality, creative content.

Symptoms of #COVID19 may take up to 14 days to appear and include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Contact a health care professional if you have travelled recently and develop these symptoms. #coronavirus


4. Platform matters! Media matters!

While who posts matters more, what media is posted matters too. But the optimal mix depends on the platform - on Twitter, public health officials can maximize engagement by sharing videos or infographics, while these media types are actually penalized relative to text-only statuses on Facebook.

Back to our question:

Yes, Yoda can help governments to fight the pandemic! To do so, policy makers need to take into consideration which media and content is effective on Facebook as compared to Twitter and develop specific strategies to reach citizens in times of a health crisis.

Understanding vaccine hesitancy in Canada: attitudes, beliefs, and the information ecosystem

  • 65% of Canadians intend to take a vaccine, with some slight erosion since a high in July. Approximately 15% of Canadians are unwilling and 20% are unsure.
  • Our best opportunity to reach those who are unsure is to address important concerns around the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
  • Among those who do not plan to take a vaccine, many also believe that COVID-19 is not a serious threat. It will be very difficult to convince these individuals to take a vaccine. The efficacy, safety, country-of-origin, type of vaccine, and other characteristics of a hypothetical vaccine simply do not matter to this population, whereas for other Canadians these characteristics are critical for their decision to vaccinate or not.
  • Canadians are increasingly talking about vaccines on social media. The overall positive sentiment that health officials have promoted regarding vaccines hasn’t taken hold in these conversations, however.
  • There is minimal coverage of vaccine conspiracies in Candian mainstream media. Instead mainstream media coverage has focused on stories about development, provision, and access, with wide scale vaccination highlighted as the solution to the pandemic.
  • Despite this positive coverage, vaccine-related stories from independent outlets have appeared on social media that more heavily feature conspiratorial thinking and cynicism about vaccines. This type of content tends to elicit stronger and more emotional responses from Canadians, which may cause this content to spread more widely and rapidly on social media platforms.
  • The vaccine conversation on social media largely originates from U.S.-based discussions. Canadians on social media are heavily influenced by U.S.-based information and are far more likely to propagate non-Canadian content. This flood of U.S.-based information represents a unique Canadian vulnerability, where Canadian elites, medical professionals, scientists, and journalists may be comparatively less able to reach and inform Canadians.

Read full report here.

Public Health Communication and Engagement on Social Media during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Social media provides governments the opportunity to directly communicate with their constituents. During a pandemic, reaching as many citizens as possible with health messaging is critical to reducing the spread of the disease. This study evaluates efforts to spread healthcare information by Canadian local, provincial, and federal governments during the first five months of the COVID-19 pandemic. We collect all health-related communications coming from government accounts on Facebook and Twitter and analyze the data using a nested mixed method approach. We first identify quantifiable features linked with citizen engagement, before subsequently performing content analysis on outlier posts. We make two critical contributions to existing knowledge about government communication, particularly during public health crises. We identify cross-platform variations in strategy effectiveness and draw attention to specific, evidence-based practices that can increase engagement with government health information.

Les médias sociaux donnent aux gouvernements la possibilité de communiquer directement avec leurs électeurs. Lors d'une pandémie, il est essentiel d'atteindre le plus grand nombre possible de citoyens avec des messages de santé pour réduire la propagation de la maladie. Cette étude évalue les efforts déployés par les gouvernements locaux, provinciaux et fédéral canadiens pour diffuser des informations sur les soins de santé au cours des cinq premiers mois de la pandémie COVID-19. Nous recueillons toutes les communications relatives à la santé provenant des comptes gouvernementaux sur Facebook et Twitter et analysons les données en utilisant une approche mixte emboîtée. Nous identifions d'abord les caractéristiques quantifiables liées à l'engagement des citoyens, avant d'effectuer une analyse de contenu sur les messages aberrants. Nous apportons deux contributions essentielles aux connaissances existantes sur la communication gouvernementale, en particulier lors des crises de santé publique. Nous identifions les variations multiplateformes de l'efficacité des stratégies et attirons l'attention sur des pratiques spécifiques, fondées sur des données probantes, qui peuvent accroître l'engagement à l'égard des informations gouvernementales en matière de santé.

Read preprint here.

All in this together: deservingness of government aid during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented pressure on governments to engage in widespread cash transfers directly to citizens to help mitigate economic losses. These programs are major redistribution efforts aimed at a variety of sub-groups within society (the unemployed, those with children, those with pre-existing health conditions, etc.) and there has been remarkably little resistance to these government outlays. We employ a novel and pre-registered paired vignette experiment to assess support for government aid during the pandemic in a large, nationally representative sample. We evaluate whether the “normal” deservingness hierarchy and considerations of social affinity or material self-interest continue to drive preferences of Canadians regarding redistribution. We find only small deservingness considerations and little evidence that redistribution preferences are informed by similarity considerations. Instead, we find broad, generous, and non-discriminatory support for direct cash transfers during this period of crisis.

Français La pandémie COVID-19 a exercé une pression sans précédent sur les gouvernements pour qu'ils s'engagent dans des transferts d'argent liquide généralisés directement aux citoyens afin de contribuer à atténuer les pertes économiques. Ces programmes constituent des efforts de redistribution majeurs destinés à divers sous-groupes de la société (les chômeurs, les personnes ayant des enfants, celles ayant des problèmes de santé préexistants, etc.) et ces dépenses gouvernementales ont suscité une résistance remarquablement faible. Nous utilisons une nouvelle expérience de vignettes jumelées préenregistrées pour évaluer le soutien à l'aide gouvernementale pendant la pandémie sur un large échantillon représentatif au niveau national. Nous évaluons si la hiérarchie des mérites "normaux" et les considérations d'affinité sociale ou d'intérêt matériel continuent à déterminer les préférences des Canadiens en matière de redistribution. Nous n'avons trouvé que de petites considérations sur le mérite et peu de preuves que les préférences en matière de redistribution sont influencées par des considérations de similarité. Au contraire, nous constatons un soutien large, généreux et non discriminatoire aux transferts directs d'argent liquide pendant cette période de crise.
Read preprint here.

Prospective Economic Costs Undermine Expectations of Social Distancing

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an extraordinary burden on governments and citizens alike. In order to contain the spread of the pandemic and limit its effect on health care systems, citizens have been asked to forego social and economic activity to protect others at a tremendous cost to themselves. We argue that participation in social distancing can be seen as contributions to a public good, and thus willingness to participate will be influenced by the marginal costs and benefits of those contributions and expectations that other citizens will participate. We test our theory using three survey experiments conducted on nationally representative samples of citizens. We find that respondents have lower expectations of social distancing compliance by other citizens and by themselves in response to information related to the high prospective economic costs of social distancing. We show that the effect of prospective economic costs on self-expectations of social distancing compliance is strongest among younger respondents and those outside of dense-urban areas – two groups who face higher costs relative to benefits of social distancing. We also find evidence of a causal link between respondents’ expectations of social distancing compliance by other citizens and their self-expectations of compliance with these guidelines. This suggests that some of the effect of prospective economic cost on self-expectations may be mediated by changes in expectations of other citizens’ behaviour.

Français La pandémie de COVID-19 a fait peser un fardeau extraordinaire sur les gouvernements et les citoyens. Afin de contenir la propagation de la pandémie et de limiter ses effets sur les systèmes de soins de santé, il a été demandé aux citoyens de renoncer à l'activité sociale et économique pour protéger les autres, ce qui leur coûte très cher. Nous soutenons que la participation à la distanciation sociale peut être considérée comme une contribution à un bien public, et que la volonté de participer sera donc influencée par les coûts et les avantages marginaux de ces contributions et par les attentes que d'autres citoyens auront de participer. Nous testons notre théorie à l'aide de trois expériences d'enquête menées sur des échantillons de citoyens représentatifs au niveau national. Nous constatons que les personnes interrogées ont des attentes moins élevées en ce qui concerne le respect de la distance sociale par les autres citoyens et par elles-mêmes en réponse aux informations relatives aux coûts économiques potentiels élevés de la distance sociale. Nous montrons que l'effet des coûts économiques potentiels sur les attentes personnelles de respect de la distance sociale est le plus fort chez les jeunes répondants et chez ceux qui vivent en dehors des zones urbaines denses - deux groupes qui sont confrontés à des coûts plus élevés par rapport aux avantages de la distance sociale. Nous trouvons également des preuves d'un lien de cause à effet entre les attentes des personnes interrogées en matière de respect de la distance sociale par les autres citoyens et leurs propres attentes en matière de respect des présentes lignes directrices. Cela suggère qu'une partie de l'effet du coût économique prospectif sur les attentes personnelles peut être compensée par des changements dans les attentes du comportement des autres citoyens.

Read preprint here.

Anti-intellectualism and Information Preferences during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitates widespread voluntary and sustained public compliance with expert-guided public health directives, like social or physical distancing. Understanding which citizens seek out and engage with expert messages regarding COVID-19 is thus of central importance. Anti-intellectualism – the generalized distrust of experts and intellectuals – is likely to be a dominant factor. This note presents the results of two survey experiments from large nationally representative samples of Canadians (N~2,500) that illustrate citizen preference for 1) COVID-19 news, which they view as more important; and 2) COVID-19 information from experts, which they view as more credible. These information-seeking preferences and evaluations dissipate among those with high levels of anti-intellectual sentiment. Associations between anti-intellectualism and COVID-19 risk perceptions and social distancing compliance may, at least in part, be explained by divergence in information preferences.

Français La pandémie de COVID-19 nécessite un respect volontaire et soutenu des directives de santé publique guidées par des experts, comme la distanciation sociale ou physique. Il est donc essentiel de comprendre quels citoyens recherchent et utilisent les messages des experts concernant COVID-19. L'anti-intellectualisme - la méfiance généralisée à l'égard des experts et des intellectuels - est susceptible d'être un facteur dominant. Cette note présente les résultats de deux expériences d'enquête menées auprès de grands échantillons nationaux représentatifs de Canadiens (N~2 500) qui illustrent la préférence des citoyens pour 1) les nouvelles de COVID-19, qu'ils considèrent comme plus importantes, et 2) les informations de COVID-19 provenant d'experts, qu'ils considèrent comme plus crédibles. Ces préférences et évaluations en matière de recherche d'informations se dissipent parmi les personnes ayant un niveau élevé de sentiment anti-intellectuel. Les associations entre l'anti-intellectualisme et les perceptions du risque COVID-19 et la distance sociale de la conformité peuvent, au moins en partie, s'expliquer par la divergence des préférences en matière d'information.

Read preprint here

Our work is grounded in the premise that the integrity of the public sphere is under strain. On the surface, the most troubling manifestations are of isolated harms or “bad actors”: online forms of hate speech, harassment, “fake news”, and organized disinformation campaigns by foreign operators. But beneath these symptoms are structural issues which compromise the integrity of our information infrastructure: automation of control over information curation for purposes of attention maximization; erosion of public norms of source credibility in news media; fragmentation of media audiences that separates the polity from a common, fact-based public debate; and an accelerated tribalism that undermines democratic institutions.

Our project is actively developing, trialling, and refining methods for capturing these dynamics, and most importantly, for assessing the impact that they have on the behaviour of citizens and ultimately the health of our democracy. This addresses a gap in the research community to expand its monitoring and analysis of targeted disinformation campaigns towards a broader framework that captures the health of the wider information ecosystem.

The objective of MEO is to develop an evidence-based model for information ecosystem health, in order to both better understand the online harms and digital threats to democracy, and to safeguard against it. The Principal Investigators of MEO are Peter Loewen, Taylor Owen and Derek Ruths.

The Team

Aengus Bridgman is a PhD candidate in Political Science at McGill University and a research fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Citizenship. He studies political behaviour with a particular focus on the participation and motivation of online political activists. His work has been published in Party Politics.
Sean Nossek is a master’s student in political science and a researcher at McGill University. His thesis is on the relationship between the market power of firms and voting behavior, and he is interested in international political economy (IPE), computational methods, and causal inference. He also helps teach an intensive R bootcamp for the Policy and Data Science (PODS) summer program.

Julia Ma recently graduated from McGill University in May 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Joint Mathematics and Computer Science. She is currently a research assistant focusing on data collection. She completed three internships during her time in university, working in data analysis, controls engineering, and full-stack development in financial services.

Taylor Owen (co-PI) (DPhil, Oxford) is the Beaverbrook Chair in Media, Ethics and Communications and Associate Professor in the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University. He is the Director of the McGill Center for Media, Technology and Democracy, a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation and a Fellow at the Public Policy Forum. His work focuses on the intersection of media, technology and public policy and can be found at and @taylor_owen.

Peter Loewen (co-PI) (PhD, Montréal) is a Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto. He is the Director of PEARL (Policy, Elections, and Representation Lab) and a Research Lead at the Schwarzt-Reisman Institute. He is also a Senior Fellow at Massey College and a Fellow with the Public Policy Forum. He is interested in how politicians can make better decisions, how citizens can make better choices, and how governments can address the disruption of technology and harness its opportunities. He has published his work in journals of political science, economics, psychology, biology, and general science.

Eric Merkley (PhD, UBC) is a postdoctoral fellow in the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on the link between elite behaviour, news coverage, and public opinion, especially as they pertain to issues of expert or scientific consensus. His work has been published in journals such as the British Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Political Communication, among others.

Lisa Teichmann is a PhD student in German at McGill University. Her research focuses on the question of how computational text analysis methods and tools can form a repository for cross-cultural comparative literary analysis. She is part of txtLab and NovelTM: A Multi-University Digital Humanities Initiative. She is edditorial Assistant at the online open-access  Cultural Analytics Journal, a guest Researcher at the Academiae Corpora (Austrian Academy of Sciences), and a host on CKUT 90.3FM.
Elisa Chaudet is a master’s student in the School of Information Studies at McGill University. Previous to her current studies she completed a BFA in graphic design and photography, and after worked as a designer within marketing and government information. She has also previously worked in public libraries, collaborated on a publication about the Dutch squatters movement, and on the data rescue project, DRAW. She is currently also a student librarian Concordia University.

Oleg Zhilin is a Mozilla Fellow and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Computer Science at McGill University. He is interested in the understanding of online information propagation as well as all aspects of the data engineering process.

Derek Ruths (co-PI) is an Associate Professor at the School of Computer Science at McGill University. He is the Founding Director of the Centre for Social & Cultural Data Science and leads the Network Dynamics Laboratory for research on social informatics, social media analytics, and natural language processing. Derek is also the Chief Architect at a non-profit called Charitable Analytics International. He received his PhD in Computer Science from Rice University. Derek believes in the potential for computation and data analysis to support responsible, evidence-based decision making. This guides his professional work in teaching, research, entrepreneurship, and outreach.


The core team of the MEO worked in a partnership with the Public Policy Forum on the Digital Democracy Project during the 2019 Canadian Federal Election.

The project studied the media ecosystem in the run-up to and during Canada’s October 2019 federal election by monitoring digital and social media and by conducting both regular national surveys and a study of a metered sample of online consumption. The project communicated research findings publicly on a regular basis from August to October 2019 (reports below), and will issue a final report in April.

The project was funded by the Rossy Family Foundation, the McConnell Foundation, and the Luminate Group. The project also participated in the Digital Ecosystem Research Challenge, a collaborative research project led by Taylor Owen and Elizabeth Dubois, and funded by a grant from Heritage Canada. The DDP shared survey and online data with 18 research projects funded through the collaboration.

LESSONS IN RESILIENCE: Canada's Digital Media Ecosystem and the 2019 Election

The Canadian political information ecosystem is likely more resilient than that of other countries, in particular the U.S., due to a populace with relatively high trust in the traditional news media, relatively homogenous media preferences with only a marginal role for hyperpartisan news, high levels of political interest and knowledge, and — despite online fragmentation — fairly low levels of ideological polarization overall. While we do find affective polarization, which involves how individuals feel about other parties and their supporters, we find less polarization on issues, which has been a key point of vulnerability in other international elections.

Despite some worries about automated activity being used to game trending hashtags on Twitter or the presence of a few disreputable online outlets, our research suggests their impact was limited. While there remain significant blind spots in the online ecosystem caused by limited data access for researchers, based on the communication we could see, we did not find evidence of any impact attributable to a coordinated disinformation campaign.

Looking forward, however, we find evidence to suggest potential future vulnerabilities, most of which are related to growing partisanship and polarization, as well as the segmentation of the populace into online information environments that reinforce existing world views.

Research Memo #7: The Partisan Playground

One of the goals of the Digital Democracy Project has been to track the digital media environment in order to identify potential threats to Canadian democracy. Our previous reports have shown that social media does not likely contribute to political polarization in Canada, and that Canadians generally trust the traditional news media, with even strong partisans more likely to engage with mainstream outlets on social media than media sites that cater to the fringes. Moreover, the more partisan and fragmented discourse found online is not necessarily reflected in the attitudes and beliefs of the mass population. Despite this positive news, our final report of this election period—which draws on data collected over the past three months—suggests that the information environment continues to have key vulnerabilities. Partisans, who are the most active citizens during election periods, tend to favour sharing and consuming content conducive to their existing worldviews and engage less with other perspectives.

Research Memo #6: Political Advertising on Facebook

The Liberal Party outspent the Conservatives on Facebook. They also chose more narrowly targeted ads compared to the Conservatives’ “broadcast”-style strategy.

The highest-spending partisan third-party group, by far, was Canada Proud.
Troublingly, we found at least two advertisers purporting to show “fact checks” that were actually partisan advertisements.

Canadians do not seem to prefer positive ads to negative ads. Negative ads do drive up negative perceptions of the party that is targeted, but also of the party that pays for the ads.

Positive political ads appear to reduce affective polarization—dislike of parties or their supporters on the other end of the political spectrum simply because they belong to an opposing group.

Research Memo #5: Fact-Checking, Blackface and the Media

If there is a general theme emerging from these Digital Democracy Project reports, it is that much of the received wisdom about the current state of the media and democracy is, if not false, at least poorly supported by the available evidence. For example, contrary to popular belief, Canadians do not live in media-driven partisan echo chambers, and their trust in mainstream media remains quite high. And while there is some evidence of political polarization, that appears to be driven largely by the parties themselves and not by the media.
The good news, then, is that there appears to be a great deal of room for the media to play a valuable and constructive role in sustaining good-faith democratic engagement. This week’s report builds on these themes in two ways.

First, we have new survey results that suggest that there is a great deal of support among Canadians for fact-checking, and that it can be effective. Yet while fact-checking is a practice that has long been considered part of the bread and butter of accountability journalism, there is little evidence that journalist-based fact checking is more effective than any other means.
Second, a data-driven analysis of Justin Trudeau’s blackface controversy shows that the initial flood of online activity was marked by widespread sharing of solid journalism. As the initial interest in the story waned, further activity consisted by and large of conservatives talking among themselves, with little evidence of the conversation being influenced by inauthentic actors.

Research Memo #4: Talking Past Each Other on Immigration

Since the Digital Democracy Project began surveying Canadians earlier this summer, immigration has consistently ranked around the middle of the list of political issues of concern to the public. Canada has a long history of embracing immigrants and refugees, but with rising populist and nativist sentiment in the United States and Europe—and the emergence of the People’s Party of Canada at home—politicians and analysts have been watching closely to see if immigration is becoming a consequential election issue.

The short answer is that it is starting to, though not in the strictly polarizing manner that is usually feared. The good news is that Canadians across the political spectrum have somewhat complex and nuanced views on immigration, and that these views can be influenced by relevant information (such as the correct number of immigrants being admitted into the country.)
The bad news, perhaps, is that because the politics of immigration is so multi-dimensional, it means much of the public debate around it tends to be at cross purposes.

Research Memo #3: Polarization and its Discontents

Researchers, pundits and armchair analysts have argued for some time now that Canada is becoming more like the United States when it comes to polarization—typically understood as the segmenting of society into increasingly isolated and mutually incomprehensible political tribes. It is also common to see at least some of the blame for polarization placed on the media, where increasingly partisan social media echo chambers amplify disagreement and distort the public conversation.

Yet while there is some evidence that Canadians are polarized, according to our data, the story is a bit more complicated than is often assumed. In particular, the usual narrative of social media-based echo chambers driving real-world polarization is not supported by our survey and online data. Yes, some small subset of Twitter users tend to create online echo chambers, but our survey findings suggest that the offline impact is very limited.

Ultimately, the biggest driver of polarization seems to be ideology and partisanship themselves. As our political parties have become more ideologically distinct, their strongest partisans have tended to feel more distant from each other. This echoes one of our findings from our first research memo: it is the media consumers with strong partisan tendencies who are more likely to become misinformed with news exposure, especially via social media.

Research Memo #2: The Climate Change Conundrum

Over our first two surveys, two clear electoral issues are emerging: climate change (for Liberals and the left-leaning parties) and ethics (for the Conservatives). But if the Conservatives are having trouble finding an audience for ethics concerns, even among their core supporters, the Liberals appear to have an even more difficult conundrum: The very people who actually believe in their main issue don’t appear to have much interest in doing anything about it.

Research Memo #1: Media, Knowledge and Misinformation

Consumption of traditional print, broadcast and online media remains relatively high across partisan lines. Alternative media sources that cover politics from an overtly ideological perspective are more prevalent on Twitter than among the general public.

Canadians are somewhat trusting of traditional news outlets as a source for political news, especially compared to political parties and social media.

Exposure to both mainstream media and, to a greater extent, social media is associated with higher levels of misinformation. One key point of vulnerability is the greater tendency of media consumers with strong partisan tendencies to become misinformed with news exposure, especially via social media.

The environment has emerged as the dominant policy issue for Canadians, though markedly less so for Conservative party supporters. The topic was also prominent among political candidates and journalists on Twitter.

However, other issues that the public identified as important—such as healthcare and the economy—were less likely to be discussed by candidates and journalists.

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada.