More than half of Canadians say big tech is making society worse

Social media continues to command consumer attention and advertising dollars, but two new studies shed light on the growing “tech-lash” across North America.

More than half (56%) of Canadians believe large technology companies like Google and Facebook are making society worse, with 22% saying much worse, according to a study by Forum Research conducted for the Toronto Star.

And in the U.S. a Pew study about the role of social media in delivering news found that 62% of Americans feel social media companies have “too much control” over the news,  leading to “a worse mix of news.” However, the number of Americans who get news from social media is also on the rise, with 55% of respondents saying they get their news from social media sites either “often” or at least “sometimes,” up from 47% in 2018.

While social media and big tech giants have grown without restraint since taking off in the early 2000s (Facebook and Google control about 60% of the digital ad market according to eMarketer), a growing chorus of critics say they have too much power and are demanding changes.

The list of concerns and complaints range from the protection of consumer privacy, to rising stress and anxiety levels among young people, to the effects of bad information on political issues and democracy itself.

Concerns about the spread of toxic content after the mass shooting in New Zealand in March led to the World Federation of Advertisers to call for change, saying advertisers had a “moral” obligation to insist social media platforms take action. The WFA called on marketers, “as the funders of the online advertising system—to put pressure on platforms to do more to prevent their services and algorithms from being hijacked by those with malicious intent.”

In Europe GDPR was meant to protect user privacy rights, with similar rules set to take effect in California on Jan. 1 and the regulation and possible break up of the giants becoming an election issue in the U.S. In Canada, meanwhile, there are calls to close a tax loophole that gives breaks to marketers advertising on international digital media.

“We’re living in an age of rapid technological advancement, obviously. But Canadians are starting to see the societal impact of large technology companies negatively,” said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research, in a release. “Canadians are also feeling as though large technology companies like Google or Facebook need to assume more responsibility for what’s being posted on their platforms: whether it’s to ensure that information is not fake news, or that their products aren’t causing harm.”

Other findings from the Forum study include:

  • 61% would approve if the laws that governed large technology companies operating in Canada were made stronger, with 31% saying they would approve strongly;
  • 83% agree that large technology companies like Facebook, Amazon, or Google have an ethical duty to ensure that their products are not causing harm, with 61% saying that they agree strongly;
  • 79% agree that large technology companies based outside of Canada should be charged taxes on ad sales displayed within Canada, with 58% saying they agree strongly.

According to Pew about 28% of Americans say they get their news from social media often, up from 20% in 2018.

Facebook is by far the most popular social media news source, with 52% of all Americans getting news via the platform, followed by YouTube at 28% and Twitter at 17%.

Concerns about relying on social media spiked after the 2016 election in the U.S. Since then, studies have shown that fake news performs better on social media. While the large platforms have claimed they are taking steps to clean up fake news, critics say not enough is being done because it gets more engagement and therefore drives more revenue for the social media companies.


David Brown