#onpoli newsletter - What do the meme wars mean for the election?

The first episode of the latest #onpoli podcast is up
By Eric Bombicino - Published on Sep 11, 2019
Two men sit at a table with microphones
Steve Paikin and Ontario Proud founder Jeff Ballingall ready to record.

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Hello, #onpoli people,

We’re back from our summer hibernation with our first episode of Season 3! This fall, we’re all about the federal election.

We are kicking things off with a look at a new player in the Canadian election landscape: social media-savvy third-party advocacy groups such as Ontario Proud or Canada Proud. Haven’t heard of them? Don’t worry: we’ve got you covered.

Third-party advocacy groups are edgy, provocative, and — depending on whom you ask — downright offensive. They exist on both the left and right. They also have a massive online footprint. Ontario Proud, for example, has garnered more engagement on Facebook than some of Canada’s largest news outlets.

Chart titled "Facebook engagement: June 2018-June 2019." Shows Ontario Proud in 3rd place, behind CBC and CTV, and ahead of Global News, Toronto Star, North 99, APTN, and The Globe and Mail

Research shows that more than half of Canadians get their news from social media.1 “It’s hard to compete from a straight news perspective,” says Kaleigh Rogers, a senior CBC reporter covering disinformation. “Which one is going to draw your attention more?” she asks, referring to the act of scrolling through posts on a Facebook or Twitter timeline. “The one that makes you feel really angry or really scared…or the one that is just kind of neutral?”

Whether or not groups like Ontario Proud have played a role, Steve Paikin notes in this episode that “there’s a lot less civilized dialogue among the different sides in our political debates.”

Toxin to democracy, or cure for apathy?

Steve spoke with Jeff Ballingall, founder of Ontario Proud and now Canada Proud, in this episode. At one point, Steve asks him: “How much [do] you think you have contributed to that state of affairs?”

“I think what's more dangerous is apathy,” says Ballingall. “I think that’s way worse. I’d rather have people fighting and coming to conclusions and having ideas and caring than not.”

"We need more people paying attention to politics,” he says. “And if we’re a bit shocking and if we’re a bit abrasive and if we’re a little bit loud, so be it. But we’re a part of the political dialogue.”

So do third-party advocacy groups really inject more anger and fear into the electorate, or have they simply figured out how to play the internet game well, and managed to bring more people into the national conversation in the process?

Steve wasn’t so sure. He pushed back on Ballingall’s statement that groups like Ontario Proud are an effective remedy to apathy.

“When I was a kid, more people hung out in the middle,” says Steve, “and anywhere from 80 to 90 per cent of those people used to show up and vote in elections. And now people have sort of retreated to their respective corners in this boxing ring, and half to 60 per cent of people are showing up for elections.

“You could make the argument that people are a lot more apathetic today because people like you have poisoned the well so much," Steve says. "I’m not saying it; I’m saying that argument is there. Respond if you would.”

You can listen to Ballingall’s response and the full episode here.

And, as always, please write in with any of your queries or comments about the episode. What do you think of these new online third-party groups? Email us at onpolitics@tvo.org.

Eric
#onpoli producer 


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