Canadians are souring on Facebook, and it started long before Cambridge Analytica

Canadians are souring on Facebook, and it started long before Cambridge Analytica

By Ian Holliday, Research Associate

In public opinion polling, breaking news can be a blessing or a curse. Sometimes, a survey is already in field, and a story breaks that makes the data you’re already collecting suddenly more relevant. Other times, a story breaks that makes your data out-dated.

The Angus Reid Institute’s recent report on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica is an example of both of these scenarios.

We at ARI had already collected – but not yet released – data on Canadians’ perceptions of the five most-valuable technology companies in the world when whistleblower Christopher Wylie went public in The Guardian on March 18.

Suddenly, what had been a story about big tech companies and how Canadians perceived them turned into a story about Facebook, specifically, and eroding public trust in the social media giant.

Happily – for us, anyway – that was a story our polling could tell. Our pre-Cambridge data showed that Canadians were more likely to hold unfavourable views of Facebook than any of the other companies we had asked about (Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft). Moreover, Canadians were three times more likely to say their opinion of Facebook had worsened in the last few years than to say it had improved (30% versus 9%, respectively). None of the other companies were trending so sharply in a negative direction.

The sudden media maelstrom also left an outstanding question, however: Had opinions of Facebook changed in the wake of the revelations? Releasing our pre-Cambridge data would show that Facebook was already disliked by a significant portion of the Canadian public before they found out that a U.K. company had discreetly collected data on some 50 million Facebook users and used it to build a “psychological warfare tool.” What it wouldn’t show is the effect that knowledge was having on public opinion.

So, we went back into field. This time, we asked whether opinions of each company had improved or worsened in the last month. We also added a question about what changes – if any – Canadian Facebook users planned to make to their use of the platform in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica news. The findings from that question became part of our headline: Three-in-four Canadian Facebook users say the data-mining scandal will change how they use the social network.

The new data showed very few Canadians expressing an opinion – either worsened or improved – about companies other than Facebook, as seen in the following graph:

Angus Reid Institute

Compare that to responses from the first wave of data, when the time-frame referenced was longer:

Angus Reid Institute

Facebook still stands out. Nearly twice as many Canadians say their view of the company has worsened as say this of the company with the next-highest “worsened” total (Apple). But there’s also considerably more variation in perceptions of the other companies on the list.

A couple of other findings emerge from the longer-term approach to this question:

  • First, Canadians are largely indifferent to Microsoft, but are more polarized in their opinions on Apple. Indeed, Microsoft fares better than its long-time competitor on overall favourability. Nearly six-in-ten (57%) say they have a favourable opinion of Microsoft, while fewer than half (45%) say the same of Apple. This represents a marked change from where the two companies stood during the first decade of the 21st century, when Microsoft was fighting anti-trust charges and Apple – largely in the person of its late CEO Steve Jobs – was seen as a visionary underdog, disrupting the technological status quo.
  • Second, Google and Amazon have been trending upward in the minds of Canadians in recent years. Each company earns a favourable impression from roughly six-in-ten Canadians (57% for Google, 58% for Amazon), suggesting that – although each company has faced its own scandals in recent years – the well of public goodwill for these companies is still far from dry.

All of this looks bad for Facebook, but it’s worth noting that – for all its recent struggles – Canadians still view it more favourably (41% do) than unfavourably (33%), and 57 per cent of them use the platform daily, more than use the products or services of any of the other companies canvassed in the survey.

So, while the Cambridge Analytica story has done measurable damage to Facebook and its brand in Canada, that damage is not yet catastrophic. The conditions exist for public perceptions of Facebook to rebound. Whether they will rebound, however, is another question.

Image Credit: Marco Paköeningrat


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