Torrent of online 'toxicity,' including hate, targeting election candidates: study

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OTTAWA, Kan. — A project examining more than 350,000 comments sent to candidates on Twitter during the first week of the federal election campaign found more than a quarter of the tweets were considered toxic.

The executive director of the Samara Centre for Democracy says the research, which looked only at Twitter, found 20 per cent of the tweets were on the low or middle end of what the project called a "toxicity scale," in that contained insults, sexist language or rude comments.

Sabreena Delhon says a further seven per cent of the tweets were "severely toxic," including hateful, aggressive comments or threats of violence against candidates or their families.

Delhon says the research found that women seeking re-election as Liberals faced the most toxicity during the period studied and were over five times more likely to receive toxic tweets than men running as candidates for the same party.

A spokesperson for Twitter Canada says the company takes action when it identifies tweets or accounts that violate the company's rules and that it has a civil integrity policy that covers the publishing of misleading content on Twitter.

The Samara Centre is a non-partisan think tank that partnered with Areto Labs, which has been tracking toxicity online for several years.

The organizations developed an artificial intelligence tool that uses machine learning to track toxic tweets received by political party leaders and incumbent candidates during the campaign.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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