A highly targeted, often negative, transition to online and social media marketing is bringing Canadian politics into a dark new era.
At the heart of the discourse are sweeping social media campaigns by the country’s main political parties – and third-party groups seeking to target and divide the population.
Based on information from Facebook’s advertising library, Canada’s political parties spend millions on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.
The Liberals account for more than half of that spending and stepped up a gear last week as polls continue to suggest a tight end to election day. The party paid for more than 10,000 ads in the 90 days leading up to September 6.
That’s about $ 1.8 million for the Liberal site and an additional $ 1 million for Trudeau’s site.
“We believe it is important to meet Canadians where they are, and more and more of our lives have moved online, especially over the past year,” the Party spokesperson said. liberal Alex Deslongchamps.
The Conservatives spent significantly less in this election, with the Conservative Page distributing about $ 865,000 over the 90-day period on 650 ads and an additional $ 65,000 on 170 ads for Party Leader Erin O’Toole.
The NDP is not far behind, spending almost $ 660,000 on 500 ads, and an additional $ 250,000 on about 230 ads for its leader Jagmeet Singh.
It is one of the biggest advertising campaigns in the history of the party during an election.
“The strategy is a blend of traditional ads, digital and social media as well as innovative new techniques across the country to help Canadians learn more about Jagmeet’s NDP and our plan to make life more affordable and fair.” , said NDP spokesperson Emily Robinson.
“On the digital side, we’re pushing the boundaries with brand new online engagement tools that aim to build community and promote grassroots organization. “
But the types of ads on Facebook – many of which are started by third-party groups with clear agendas – rarely create community, said Andrea Perrella, professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University. Instead, the campaigns create a “barbaric” political discourse.
This happened in the last Ontario provincial election, he said, with several campaigns to smash the image of Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne. The result? A landslide crushing victory for Doug Ford’s Conservative Party and a virtual annihilation of the Liberals at Queen’s Park.
These types of attacks continued into 2021, he said, this time primarily against Trudeau.
“It’s toxic,” he said. “It doesn’t produce healthy, democratic deliberation, it just creates a lot of rage. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing on the streets right now, a lot of rage.
Not everything can be attributed to social media, he said, but it cannot be denied that many of these people get their information online.
And with targeted algorithms based on delivering content and advertisements that a user is likely to click, he said, this has very dangerous consequences for the political realm.
This hardens positions and makes it more difficult for people to consider the merits of opposing points of view simply because they are never subject to them.
What does it look like in practice? Imagine a Tory ad criticizing Trudeau. Someone likes the message and is then bombarded by subsequent Conservative messages as well as the various third-party groups with anti-Trudeau sentiments.
The more they fall into the rabbit hole, Perrella explains, the tougher they get in their position.
And current regulations offer little to control this.
The current definition of political advertising is to either promote a candidate or party or oppose another candidate or party during the election period, said Elections Canada spokeswoman Natasha Gauthier.
Under the Canada Elections Act, there is a provision prohibiting the publication of intentionally false and misleading statements.
The problem, Perrella said, is that the online world is beyond words. There are pictures, memes, and GIFs that can easily distort the truths.
“People are drawn to online media because of the pictures and memes. If they rely on this to guide their political decisions, then they are using a highly toxic form of political communication designed specifically to manipulate.
This is a situation with no clear answer or way forward, and any attempt to recast the current direction will likely come up against calls to maintain freedom of speech and political expression, Perrella said.
But it is a problem that is likely to get worse, not better, if it continues on this path.
“It looks like we are in a new world of political communication that calls for a new set of regulations to optimize precise content and minimize elements of manipulation,” he said.