Online Abuse in Municipal Elections: The SAMbot Municipal Report

June 20, 2023
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Online Abuse in Municipal Elections: The SAMbot Municipal Report
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The Samara Centre for Democracy’s Online Abuse in Local Elections: The SAMbot Municipal Report measures digital toxicity experienced by candidates in the following 2022 municipal elections: Vancouver, Surrey, Ottawa, Brampton, Toronto, Winnipeg,Yellowknife, and Charlottetown. 

Analysis was supported by SAMbot, a multi-year machine learning initiative that measures abusive content received by Canadian political candidates online. Across these elections, SAMbot evaluated over 465,000 tweets received by over 500 accounts. Over 86,000 abusive tweets were identified with high volumes of online abuse in the Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Brampton and Surrey elections. 

The report also found significant volumes of identity attacks, particularly concentrated to specific candidates. In Brampton over 80% of identity attacks were received by just two candidates. School trustee candidates in Ottawa received some of the highest volumes of abusive tweets, many in the form of threats and identity attacks.

“Our previous SAMbot reports established that online abuse is a significant problem in federal and provincial elections. These new findings reveal that digital toxicity is deeply affecting our municipal elections as well.” Sabreena Delhon, Executive Director of the Samara Centre for Democracy. “The working conditions experienced by candidates on the digital campaign trail are a threat to our democracy, they can have a chilling effect that threatens representation and participation in our politics.”

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About SAMbot

Online abuse is a barrier to active participation in our democracy. It can disrupt political conversations and even prevent people from entering politics. Our SAMbot project measures abusive content that candidates and political parties receive online during Canadian elections.

We do this to illuminate the realities of abuse on the digital campaign trail and the barriers to civic engagement created by technology’s influence on our democratic culture. To date, SAMbot has been used to analyze over 3.6 million tweets received by over 1000 candidates across 10 elections (1 federal, 1 provincial and 8 municipal). Insights from this work have been shared at numerous conferences and our findings have received national media coverage. A selection of highlights is available here.

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