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Every year CIRA commissions an annual survey exploring how Canadians use the internet and publishes the insights in a new edition of Canada’s Internet Factbook. This year, CIRA is publishing a series of blog posts based on the findings of the 2022 Canada’s Internet Factbook survey. This blog that follows below is the first of four in the series. 

Remember when we used to joke that Facebook was dominated by cat photos, and Instagram by food?

The humor in what we expected from our friends on social media harkens back to a more innocent time. Today Canadians are more likely to find themselves arguing about politics with a neighbour or feeling insecure as they scroll through the glamorous feeds of Instagram influencers.  

Yet for every negative experience, there’s a life milestone shared by an old friend that you would have missed. Or a new recipe that you just have to try. You might say that we have a love/hate relationship with social media these days. Canadians are split on the overall value of social media with 45 per cent saying it has a neutral impact on their overall mental health and sense of well-being, while one-quarter (25 per cent) say it has a beneficial impact and another 22 per cent say it is harmful.  

That split in perspectives on social media may be driven by the different experiences that Canadians have with the platforms. One-quarter (24 per cent) of Canadians say they have either witnessed or directly experienced harassment when using the internet. But experiences with harassment are much higher for young people aged 18 to 34, with 37 per cent reporting harassment in 2022. 

Youth aren’t the only group noting bad behaviour on social media. Women are more likely to say that they are reluctant to use social media or participate in an online discussion because of concerns about online harassment. Whereas 36 per cent of women say they are reluctant, only 26 per cent of men say so. Overall, 31 per cent of Canadians are reluctant, which is down slightly from an all-time high over 34 per cent last year (CIRA has been tracking this question in Canada’s Internet Factbook survey since 2017). 

Back in the days when social media was dominated by feline friends and fancy food, there were only a couple of main platforms to connect. Times have changed with more options than ever to plunge into the steam of user-generated content, with newer options like TikTok becoming more popular. Thirteen per cent of Canadians now say they use TikTok, up from three per cent in 2020. 

But Facebook still reigns supreme, but the platform is on a downward trend dropping from 77 per cent using the service in 2018 to 66 per cent this year. Other Meta-owned social platforms are also very popular, with Instagram being used by 43 per cent of Canadians (up from 35 per cent in 2018 and 40 per cent last year), and WhatsApp being used by 39 per cent (up from 33 per cent in 2019).  

Note: CIRA did not begin collecting WhatsApp data until 2019

Those worried about harassment on social media might use it less often, and Canadians say they feel the least safe when using Facebook compared to other platforms. Only 61 per cent of Canadians say they feel safe on Facebook, compared to 87 per cent feeling safe on LinkedIn and 82 per cent feeling safe on WhatsApp. The results are consistent with last year’s results.  

Facebook is also viewed as the most toxic social media platform, with 40 per cent naming it so. Instagram is the next most toxic platform mentioned by Canadians at 12 per cent. Facebook is also named as the most addictive platform, with Instagram also ranking second in that category. 

Still, it’s not all bad for Facebook. It is the second-most likely platform to be named as most helpful (15 per cent), coming only after YouTube at 23 per cent. Perhaps it’s a hint as to why so many Canadians keep using the site. It’s where a large part of their personal network lives online and having a place where we can reach them to organize events or chat about shared interests is always going to be useful.  

40%

Most toxic

30%

Most addictive

15%

Most helpful

We all know there’s some risk of clicking on the wrong link on social media and ending up with a malware problem. But overall Canadians aren’t sweating it as much as they used to. While two-thirds of Canadians say they are concerned about it, that is down from a high of 80 per cent in 2019 and from 73 per cent just last year. There are also fewer Canadians reporting being a victim of a cyberattack, with 21 per cent saying they were a victim this year compared to 32 per cent in 2019 and 25 per cent last year.  

It’s often said that government can’t keep pace with the speed at which technology shapes society. But the Canadian government is noticing the negative impacts harmful and illegal online content and it’s working towards curbing these harms with new legislation. CIRA’s data illustrates how connected Canadians view social media as policymakers contemplate what to do next.