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Musk’s delivering worse social media experience for many Canadians, says polling

Extremism, ‘fake news’ and toxicity among top reasons Canadians cite for poor experiences on social media across all platforms
Twitter's new logo after owner Elon Musk rebranded the social media platform as X.

Every couple of years, Research Co. and Glacier Media review the opinions of Canadians on the state of social media. 

A lot has changed in these platforms since our last check-in back in 2021, including names, ownership and the amount of available Canadian news content.

In our latest survey, Canadian social media users are particularly critical of two platforms. Almost one in four Facebook users (23 per cent) say their overall experience has worsened over the past year, while only 12 per cent think it has become better. X, formerly known as Twitter, yields more negative numbers: 14 per cent of its users say it is better than a year ago, but three in ten (30 per cent) believe it is worse.

Reviews are more nuanced for three other platforms: Snapchat (19 per cent “worse”, 17 per cent “better”), Instagram (15 per cent “worse”, 19 per cent “better”) and TikTok (18 per cent “worse”, 24 per cent “better”).

When asked why their experience on social media has declined, Canadians offered lengthy responses in an open-ended question. 

Four themes reached double digits: extremism (14 per cent), “fake news” (also 14 per cent), toxicity (12 per cent) and advertising (also 12 per cent). 

Other factors blamed are racism (six per cent), bad updates (five per cent), Elon Musk (also five per cent), news from Canada becoming inaccessible (also five per cent), algorithms (four per cent) and scams (also four per cent).

More than a third of Canadian social media users (37 per cent, down two points since 2021) found links to stories on current affairs that were obviously false. Those aged 55 and over continue to have a harder time discerning “fake news” from suitable content (29 per cent, down five points) than their counterparts aged 35-54 (37 per cent, up three points) and aged 18-34 (45 per cent, also up three points).

Offensive posts continue to be out there, regardless of how careful users try to be. Over the past year, 27 per cent of Canadian social media users found racist content or comments on their social media feed (unchanged), while slightly fewer encountered material that was homophobic (22 per cent, up three points) or offensive to people with disabilities (19 per cent, down one point).

In spite of the continued presence of offensive content or comments, only 23 per cent of Canadian social media users (unchanged) reported a user in the past year – a proportion that rises to 32 per cent among those aged 18-34. 

About a third of Canadian social media users (32 per cent, up five points) posted something that they deleted after thinking it over twice.

For 70 per cent of Canadian social media users, it is difficult to discern which social media accounts are real and which ones are fake. 

On X, the disappearance of the genuine verification badges in favour of a subscription system has led to the creation of “cloned” profiles that end up confusing users. 

The previous method allowed users to identify notable people who shared similar names with other users. This is no longer the case.

Of course, this is not the only problem with X. The introduction of the so-called “Notes” to deal with “fake news” has reverted us to the early stages of Wikipedia. 

The tool has led to endless “correction wars” waged over evidently comedic content.

Other stumbling blocks are still with us. Just under two-thirds of Canadian social media users (65 per cent, down four points) would ban “anonymous” social media accounts and compel people to only comment and post if they use their real name and likeness. 

A similar proportion (62 per cent, down three points) would crack down on “creeping” and want social media platforms to always allow users to see who has viewed their profiles, photos and posts.

We see no change on the delicate issue of the social media presence of public servants. Three in five Canadian social media users (60 per cent) believe politicians who have a social media account should not be able to block users from engaging with them.

Public figures are not immune to inconsiderate replies, but most users perceive a block to be a drastic outcome.

The survey shows that some Canadians are getting tired of what they see on social media, especially now that proper news links are not as ubiquitous as they used to be.

Extremism and toxicity are some of the main reasons cited by users for their dismay at the current state of affairs. Still, not everyone is eager to disconnect. We may not be completely satisfied with what we have – on issues such as algorithms and updates – but no discernible alternative to the platforms we use today has been successfully manufactured.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online survey conducted from December 26 to December 28, 2023, among 838 adults in Canada who are users of social media platforms, such as Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram and Snapchat and TikTok. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is +/- 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.