OTTAWA — A broad swath of Canadians has a sour view of Facebook, with half of respondents to a new poll saying it should be regulated or broken up as a “corporate image” crisis rocks the social media giant yet again.
Forty per cent of those who responded to an online survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies said they had a negative opinion of the company.
The vast majority also agreed that Facebook amplifies hate speech, helps spread fake news, damages individuals’ mental health and poses a risk to children and teenagers.
However, more than three in four believe the social network helps them stay connected to their loved ones, with just over 50 per cent saying it is key to sharing information and positive for free expression.
Conducted Oct. 8 to 10, the online poll surveyed 1,545 Canadians and cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.
Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque says Canadians maintain a dependence on Facebook but not a strong affection for it, as the platform confronts intense public scrutiny over how its algorithms fan inflammatory rhetoric and affect users’ self-esteem.
“There’s sort of an I-need-you-but-I-don’t-love-you relationship,” Bourque said in an interview.
“Facebook really has a corporate image problem now that they will need to face.”
Last week Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before a United States Senate committee that the company’s products harm children and fuel polarization in the U.S., a claim supported by internal company research leaked to the Wall Street Journal.
The former executive’s testimony piles on more baggage to a corporation already staggering under the weight of hate-speech concerns, conspiracy theory proliferation and the Cambridge Analytica data-mining debacle of 2018.
“Facebook is starting to be an onion. The leaks were basically just one more layer,” Bourque said.
He highlighted the platform as a space where supporters of then-president Donald Trump called on citizens to storm the U.S. Capitol in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“A single event is never enough to destroy a company. But a series of events, then it becomes something, becomes like a snowball.”
Facebook Canada said in an emailed statement it continues make investments that target misinformation and harmful content.
“Canadians come to Facebook to connect with their loved ones, grow their businesses and share what matters to them,” the company wrote.
It also highlighted the platform’s banning of several Canadian hate organizations and a $500,000 partnership with Ontario Tech University’s Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism that aims to bolster research on the spread of those elements online.
Claiming roughly 2.9 billion active monthly users, Facebook also owns the mobile apps Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, each of which counts at least 1.3 billion users.
Asked whether the conglomerate should be broken up “to ensure healthy competition” and have its interactions with users regulated, more than one-quarter of survey respondents replied in the affirmative. Another 23 per cent said it should only be regulated by government.
“We agree that thoughtful regulations for the internet are needed and stand ready to work with Canadian policy-makers,” Facebook Canada said.
Only one in five respondents had a positive view of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, with nearly half checking the negative box and one-third unsure.
About 87 per cent of respondents said his company contributes to misinformation and can harm youth, amounting to a Canadian “consensus” that reflects a similar but slightly weaker American one, Bourque said.
In last month’s federal election, the Liberals pledged to introduce legislation within 100 days that combats online hate speech and content that incites violence.
The promise comes after the minority Liberal government tabled a bill last November proposing to regulate Facebook, YouTube and other platforms, but which died in the Senate once the election was triggered.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2021.