Social Media in Canada

This month we are looking at data on social media in Canada.

Social Media in Canada in 2022

Social media has continuously evolved since its inception, from the early days of Friendster and MySpace to the platforms of today. The Social Media Lab at the Toronto Metropolitan University studies this evolution and its implications for Canadian society, putting out a report on the state of social media in Canada every few years based on a census-balanced online survey of 1500 Canadian adults. We took a look at the 2022 report, which starts by looking at the adoption of social media by Canadians in 2022 and how this has changed since 2020.

Facebook continues to be the social media of choice for Canadians, with 80% having an account, followed by YouTube at 62%, Instagram at 51%, Twitter at 40%, and LinkedIn at 37%; however, all five of these platforms saw their adoption rate either remain stable or decline since 2020, with LinkedIn in particular experiencing a 7% drop. At the other end of the scale, while their user base may not be as high, adoption rates have increased for TikTok, moving from 15% in 2020 to 26% in 2022; Reddit, moving from 15% in 2020 to 19% in 2022; and Twitch, moving from 9% in 2020 to 13% in 2022. It is important to note that these three platforms, and TikTok in particular, are popular with those under 18, who were not included in this survey.

Of course, we know having an account doesn’t mean you are actually using that platform. The report goes on to rank frequency of use of platforms at a “daily”, “weekly”, or “less often” frequency.

Facebook again ranks first at 70% daily usage and 15% weekly usage, but TikTok takes second place with 65% daily usage and 19% weekly usage despite its much lower adoption ranking. It is followed next by YouTube at 61% daily usage and 25% weekly usage, Instagram at 60% daily usage and 21% weekly usage, and Snapchat at 54% daily usage and 22% weekly usage. Despite being in the top 5 spots for adoption, Twitter and LinkedIn don’t make the top 5 for usage.

Across all platforms except for TikTok, where daily usage rose by 2%, daily usage has fallen between 3% and 14% since 2020, with Reddit experiencing the 14% drop in daily usage. The report speculates this is due to pandemic restrictions being lifted across the country by the summer of 2022, but it is interesting to question whether this is simply one of the reasons rather than the central reason.

Canadian social media users vs. podcast listeners

The Canadian Internet Use Survey is a detailed survey produced by Statistics Canada detailing how Canadians use the internet. The latest data we have is from 2020. We’ll be looking at how podcast listeners and social media users compare. A “podcast listener” here is someone who has listened to a podcast in the last 12 months. Similarly, “social media user” here are those who have used social media or as Statistics Canada calls it in the survey “social networking” websites in the last 12 months. You can get this and (and much more) data, as well previous year’s data in the PUMF files that Statistics Canada provides here

Let’s start with gender:

Proportionally, more women use social media than men in the survey, while podcasts are proportionately slightly more popular among men. As expected, overall social media is more popular than podcast listening.

What about among the provinces?

These look a lot like population graphs – we didn’t weight the numbers here, just used them raw so watch out for that. Still, there’s something interesting going on here with Quebec and Ontario. Social media is only slightly more popular in Ontario than Quebec, but podcasts are much more popular in Ontario – could there be a difference here related to language?

Indeed it looks like almost no french-only Canadians listen to podcasts, but most of those Canadians use social media. What about people going to school?

You can see that almost everyone going to school uses social media in some way, while about half of those going to school listen to podcasts. What about education?

The more educated you are, the more likely you are to listen to podcasts. The effect is there for social media too, but not as strongly. There’s been a lot of talk about how social media makes you miserable. The CIUS asks questions related to life satisfaction and mental health. Let’s take a look at those:

“Life satisfaction” here is the results from people being asked to rate their satisfaction with life on a 11 point scaled (0 to 10). Not much different there, although people who don’t listen to podcasts and/or use social media do have the highest odds of being happiest. Although, interestingly they also have the highest odds of being most unhappy. Here are the results in terms of self-reported mental health.

Finally, here’s household type and income quintiles:

Nothing specifically jumps out of a different between podcast listeners and social media users there. How about income:

Podcast listeners skew higher income. 

As you can see the PUMF data is extremely detailed. Statistics Canada asks a lot more questions. Go check it out and let us know what you find.

Social Media and Access to Internet

In their “Digital 2022: Canada” report, Hootsuite reported 33.30 million social media users in Canada (87.1% of population) with a year-over-year change of +3.4%. Statistics Canada reported a figure of 81.8% in 2018 for a similar measure, which was unfortunately a one-off survey and is not reported annually. According to the Hootsuite data, Canadian Internet users spend an average of 1h53m per day on social media, which is a larger amount of time than all media engagement besides consumption of television programming.

The average Canadian internet user visits 6.2 different social network platforms at least once per month. Hootsuite’s data says the top five social media platforms are Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Whatsapp, and iMessage. Twitter comes in at number 6, followed by Pinterest, Tiktok and Snapchat rounds out the top 10. There’s lots more good stuff to be found in the full report here:

I wanted to find out information about social media use broken down by income, but that information is not readily available. The closest proxy to be found is in Statistics Canada’s breakdown of internet users (table 22-10-0144-01

Since 90% of Internet users in Canada also use social media, I feel this provides at least a rough proxy for social media use. Zeroing in on this data we see that there is a significant drop from the second quartile to the lowest, with only 75.9% of people in the lowest family income quartile having access to the Internet at home compared to 85.7% in the second quartile. The top three income quartiles are clustered between 85.7% and 90.7%, which suggests to me that there is a real financial barrier to Internet access and, by extension, participation in social media among the lowest income Canadians.

Mastodon Users

Since the controversial takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, many users have been looking around for an alternative microblogging platform. It’s far too early to tell if there is going to be any kind of real user exodus from Twitter but I wanted to see if there had been any impact on the alternative platforms so far. Mastodon is a distributed social network that is often cited as an alternative to Twitter. Simon Willison gets this information by finding Mastodon instances using JSON data from the Mastodon instances web page, then adding up the total number of users reported by each instance. He had been tracking this information for just over a week when we recorded the podcast and caught a significant adoption wave:

6.4 million people is a big number. Since the first time I looked at this data, it’s jumped over 7.5 million. but it pales in comparison to any of the major social media platforms. By direct comparison, Twitter reported 237.8 million daily active users in the 2nd quarter of 2022, the most recent quarter available.

Social Media and Trust in Institutions

A research study from Western Australia University caught my eye as they looked at the linkages between between social media and the decline in democracy that has been a pattern in last decade or so. To do so they reviewed over 500 academic articles compiling information on the relationship social media and democratic decline. 

From: A systematic review of worldwide causal and correlational evidence on digital media and democracy a, Combinations of variables in the sample: digital media (A), political variables (B) and content features such as selective exposure or misinformation (C). Numbers in brackets count articles in our sample that measure an association between variables. b, Geographic distribution of articles that reported site of data collection. c,d, Distribution of measurements (counted separately whenever one article reported several variables) over combinations of outcome variables and methods (c) and over combinations of outcome variables and digital media variables (d).

The data illustrates some relationships between social media and declining trust in institutions but also relationships with participation rates and polarization. The researchers went on to explore whether the factor has positive or negatively reinforcing impact on democratic norms. 

Directions of associations are reported for various political variables (see Fig. 1d for a breakdown). Insets show examples of the distribution of associations with trust, news exposure, polarization and network homophily over the different digital media variables with which they were associated.

What the researchers found is that there is a relationship between social media, decline in trust in institutions and non-democratic views. In my opinion some of this has to due with how social media is now seen as a trusted place for news by many. 

PEW research has done a number of polls and studies on the impact of social media on democracy. Just last week (December 6th) a multi-nation study on the perceptions of social media and democracy found 

There are a wide range of demographic factors that shape this perception with younger people tending to see social media as more positive and being a driving source of information, while older adults tend to see it more negatively. 

The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer was just released which found that Trust with institutions has reached an all time low in over a dozen countries. The research was produced by the Edelman Trust Institute and consisted of 30-minute online interviews conducted between November 1st and November 28th, 2022. The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer online survey sampled more than 32,000 respondents across 28 countries.

The same survey found four factors drive polarization – social media was one of the top drivers and the linkage with finding truth and trust both in information from social media as well as the media they view through social media. 

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