Influence Communication 2017 Report: The State of the News Tue, 12 Dec 2017 15:18:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Influence Communication 32 32 Populism and Social Networks: A New Way to Communicate Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:28:53 +0000 We can confirm, without a shadow of doubt, that 2017 was the year of populist politicians. They used three main approaches: first they relentlessly attacked the integrity of traditional media, then they bypassed them, shunning them in favour of social networks, and finally they had populist messages. In 2017 alone, Donald Trump had nearly 330 million mentions on Twitter.  That is a winning recipe!

By continually denouncing traditional media, Donald Trump has sown doubt among many Americans and elsewhere in the world. Also, “Fake News” is the term he uses most often on Twitter, 155 times since he has become president. He has cast doubt on many traditional media outlets, such as CNN and NBC (30 times each) and The New York Times (36 times). His verbal and written attacks on the media are snowballing, and also divert attention towards another media outlet that serves him well, Fox News. He has reposted favourable stories from this channel 153 times. Consequently, a recent study by the Poynter Institute shows that only 19% of Republican sympathizers have confidence in traditional media, compared to 74% among Democratic sympathizers. Trump has also explained, in a tweet that became famous, and was re-tweeted more than 33,000 times that day, why he uses social media so extensively: “Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!”

Graphique Tweet de Trump

Between January 1 and October 31, 2017, the term populism was mentioned more than 3,000 times in Quebec print media alone. Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen were associated with these mentions in nearly 60% of the cases. The term is used in other contexts, often generically, to describe the style of a politician, or to identify certain sociopolitical issues of the moment.   The term “populism” has becomes very fashionable, used in different contexts to describe realities which are often very different.

So, what exactly is populism? Media rarely take the time to explain. In Quebec, Influence counted at most 20 articles that attempt to explain it. * (see note at the end of this article)

The current strength of populist memes among politicians such as Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders means that populism is often associated with the right. But it is also active in other ideologies, such as socialism, liberalism, nationalism, etc. Historically, it has been resorted to by movements from all parts of the political spectrum, including Russian Communism in the Bolshevik revolution, fascism in the 1930s, and some Latin American revolutionary movements, as well as its recurrence in the United States.

Populism and Social Networks

Populism politicians seek to establish a privileged relationship with those they claim to represent and who constitute the people. In this respect, social networks are an extraordinary tool to propagate populist messages. They allow politicians to get access to users without going through the media filter. Normally the media select the messages of politicians and develop a critical perspective on them. Social media allow politicians to circumvent this filter and to communicate directly with the people who subscribe to the politician’s Facebook or Twitter feeds. They also allow direct feedback from the users. Messages can thus be adjusted in light of this feedback from sympathizers.

Populist politicians, particularly those of the right, benefit from a much greater visibility than that of more moderate politicians. Influence has calculated the number of Twitter mentions of several politicians from various countries where populist movements have enjoyed major political success.

The Prominence of Trump

Graphique 2

Donald Trump is unbeatable in this perspective. The American president has habituated us to a volley of morning tweets that often set the political agenda in the United States for that day. The numbers are impressive. He was mentioned nearly 330 million times on Twitter between January 1 and October 31, 2017.  This is nearly 10 times greater than the number of mentions of Hillary Clinton, who, despite her retirement from active politics, remains one of the American political figures most often mentioned on Twitter.

The Prominence of Marine Le Pen

Graphique 3

In France, Marine Le Pen did not enjoy the same Twitter domination of the candidates in the last presidential elections. She was the subject of 11 million mentions, versus 15.5 million for Emmanuel Macron. However, when we examine the figures from the first round, we note that Marine Le Pen was dominant. She benefited from the greatest number of Twitter mentions during 12 of the 16 weeks in the period from the beginning of January, 2017, to the first-round vote on April 23, 2017. This despite the corruption scandal that dragged down the campaign of François Fillon, another presidential candidate.

The Prominence of Geert Wilders

Graphique 4

Less known here because he is Dutch, Geert Wilders is another populist who aroused strong feelings in 2017. As in the case of Trump, Wilders largely dominated the other candidates in the last elections in The Netherlands, in terms of Twitter coverage. He was mentioned five times more often than the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, on this social network.


Certainly, the strong Twitter coverage of these three politicians arose in good part from the controversies they provoked. Their populism implied a break with the dominant political and media class, and their radical positions inflamed exchanges on social networks.

Tweets and Media

When we compare the political positioning of Trump, Le Pen and Wilders, we can see great similarities, notably in their abundant use of Twitter. However, their use of it is quite different.

Marine Le Pen’s Twitter account was used conventionally. It extended onto social media the communications efforts on the ground, whether participation in television shows, partisan rallies, or any other event where the politician was called to express herself in public. Most tweets posted promotional videos, clips from television shows, as well as many quotes. The systematic use of quotation marks to frame quotations showed clearly that these publications were excerpted from communications not intended for Twitter. They were a virtual extension of a dialogue conducted in person. Twitter nevertheless had a great influence on the media coverage of Marine Le Pen. The social network was quoted in about 9% of her coverage in the French print media.

Like Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump posts many photos and videos from events in which he participated. But the American president also, perhaps above all, used Twitter to present his point of view or attack his adversaries. The president has made us used to a morning volley of tweets that orient the political discussion of the day. About 25% of the coverage of the president in the American print media mentioned the social network. This is in sharp contrast to Marine Le Pen, since it is often the virtual positions of the president that orient the real, as shown by the importance of his tweets in political news in the United States.

Graphique 5 Word cloud

It thus becomes easier to adjust what you say based on who you are saying it to. By bypassing the media this way, the populist message becomes stronger. The rejection of the elite that it calls for becomes that much more credible, since it occurs outside the communications channels normally used by the elite. But this bypassing of the traditional media also forces the traditional media to become more interested in a message that goes viral on the web. In this sense, Twitter helps to force the hand of the media elite that Trump and Le Pen oppose. Twitter, favourite tool of populism? To ask the question is to answer it.

* It should be noted that this task is not easy. There is a reasonably strong consensus in the university milieu to underline the problematic nature of the word, which with its many and diverse uses becomes a cliché whose meaning is difficult to define. There is agreement, however, on some elements that Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Harvard, described in a speech delivered in Montreal in September: “The populist claims to represent the will of the people against the traditional elites. He also claims that any resistance to this will, for example by journalists, judges, or institutions, is treason.” In other words, the populist politician refers in his messages to the people in general in opposition to an elite — political, cultural or economic — that is considered corrupt. For the populist politician, the people have a truth or a moral that the people in power have betrayed.

Another question then arises: what is “the people”? Certainly, the populist politician avoids answering this. He appeals incessantly to “the people” in his discourse, without considering its pluralism, or the diversity of its interests. Also, he totally rejects elites, without considering the good they bring to a society. Populism therefore divides society into two homogeneous categories: the people against the elites.

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2017: The Year of Intolerance Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:22:08 +0000 The attack on the Grande Mosque of Quebec City occupied more space in the media than any other story since Influence Communication has been measuring this. The attack came in a particular context, between the inauguration of Trump and the historic performance of the Front National. It is in some way symptomatic of an era torn between diversity and turning inward, while the social networks encourage political polarization and the role of the fourth estate of traditional media seems increasingly contested. In short, an era when intolerance can manifest without shame.

The beginning of 2017 was marked by a great tragedy: the attack in Quebec. This historic news occupied an unprecedented space in Quebec media. With its Media Prominence Score (MPS) of 57.99%, it far exceeded the previous record established by the Lake Mégantic tragedy. The intolerance that motivated the Quebec attack set the tone for the rest of the year. Between the arrival of Trump in power, the presidential elections in France, the re-opening of NAFTA, Bill 62, the wave of asylum-seekers from the United States, the Charlottesville demonstration and the increasingly space given here to La Meute and similar organizations, rarely have we seen intolerance and hostility to the other occupy such space in the public arena. But there has also been some good in the story. In one sense, the #MeToo movement was about decreasing tolerance towards the sexual misconduct of certain powerful men, misconduct that often had a devastating impact on the victims.

The tumult in American and French politics was for Quebec the background on which this intolerance found its place. Under Donald Trump, this year international news had the greatest increase among the major topics dealt with in information media. It rose from 4.09% in 2016 to 6.17% in 2017, far ahead of the average of 2.06% since 2001.

One sector which perhaps shows more diversity than normal is sports. It remains dominant, buoyed up by the many specialized channels. Its MPS is stable, rising from 17.09% in 2016 to 17.23% in 2017. The coverage of the Montreal Canadiens in sports news, however, went through a deep decline. From 72.23% last year, it plunged to 57.48% this year: the lowest coverage of the Canadiens in sports news since 2008. Despite the drop, CH remains one of the most heavily covered teams in the entire NHL.

The greatest drop was in the technology sector.  Declining by 35.66%, its MPS went from 5.02% to 3.23%. Could it be that after 10 years of the iPhone that the launch of special models created by Apple no longer creates the same buzz as before?

Among the less covered news stories, some topics enjoyed a modest recovery. This was notably true for the case of indigenous issues, which after a significant increase in their coverage between 2015 and 2016, enjoyed another, more modest, increase in 2017. The topic of poverty also saw a 33.33% increase in coverage; but it is far from time to declare any victory, as the MPS of this topic is still only 0.16 %.

Finally, the cannabis legislation means that federal politics is taking more news space this year, to reach 10.63%, while Canada-wide news dropped below average, to 0.60%.

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The Montreal Canadiens: Religious Fervour Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:18:11 +0000 It is often said that the pressure on NHL hockey players is particularly strong in Montreal – so much that some players would refuse to come to Montreal. This is a consequence of the disproportionate media attention they receive and there is every reason to believe that this is not an urban legend. In fact, despite the difficulties of the Canadiens in 2017 – including their elimination in the first round of the series – the team still enjoyed the 3rd highest coverage in the entire league, just behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators, who were, after all, the Stanley Cup finalists!

In the face of the American giant, the Canadian and Quebec media ecosystems seem minuscule. American media output is about 32 times greater than Canada as a whole, and 243 times greater than that of Quebec.

However, we note that Canada generates 35% of all the news on the NHL, while less than a quarter of the league teams are installed there. Evidently, Canadiens’ love for their national sport has a quasi-religious fervour.

How About Those Habs, Eh?

When we consider this coverage team by team, we note that the Montreal Canadiens (CH) contribute substantially to this situation. In 2017, they had 7.39% of the total media coverage of NHL teams! This, despite a year in which the Montreal team received a significantly smaller Media Prominence Score in the Quebec media than in previous years; the lowest since 2012, in fact. Its share of overall Quebec sports coverage was also the lowest in 10 years.

Despite all of this, compared to other teams in the NHL, the Canadiens received a disproportionate share of attention, as shown by the ranking of all media coverage of the NHL teams in 2017:

This CH omnipresence in the news is even more significant in the print media (newspapers, magazines and internet) than in the electronic media. With an MPS of 5.17%, CH is on par with the New York Rangers among the most covered teams; the Rangers, however, are based in the largest media market in the NHL. Another score for the Habs!

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NAFTA: A Matter of Point of View! Mon, 11 Dec 2017 14:58:49 +0000 The re-opening of NAFTA has been a hot issue this year throughout North America. However, media interest has diverged considerably from one country to another. For example, in Canada, 12.35% of the coverage of the issues focused on Chapter 19 of the current accord (with a similar level for the question of rules of origin), while the American and Mexican dailies analyzed put much greater emphasis on this issue. This dissonance in the media illustrates eloquently the reasons why the negotiations seem to progress at a snail’s pace…


While Canadian media production is 17 times less than that of the United States, the coverage of NAFTA in Canada was 6% greater than that of American media! Canada thus had 40.54% of the mentions of NAFTA in North America in 2017, versus 34.76% for the United States. At a glance, Canada’s dependence on the United States for exports is the main stimulus for media coverage on the subject. The US should receive about 75% of Canadian exports in 2017 .

Beyond the volume of coverage, major disparities exist in the treatment of the negotiations. This is why Influence has reviewed the articles on the negotiations published during the key periods of the process of re-opening the accord. For logistical reasons, two dailies were chosen at random in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Main issues and positions: the importance of perspective

Rules of origin

The United States mainly wants to increase the proportion of parts built in North America, and would require that a large percentage are produced in their country, for a car to be exempt from duties under NAFTA. This measure could have a major negative impact on the automobile industry in Canada and Mexico, but would not guarantee the return of jobs in this sector to the United States.

It is not surprising, therefore, that rules of origin was the most heavily covered issue in Canada (12.35%), Mexico (10.97%), and above all in the United States (23.08%).

Chapter 19

Chapter 19 of the current accord provides for binational arbitration committees when one of the signatories wishes to contest the imposition of anti-dumping duties. Canada, having often used this recourse, simply cannot accept for it to be abolished, as the United States wishes.

In English Canada, coverage of Chapter 19 is at the same level as the rules of origin issue
(MPS 12.35%). It is in 2nd place in Mexico (MPS 6.45%), and 6th place in the United States.

The American exception – the trade deficit as a major issue

There is an outlier in the coverage of the issues of the negotiations in the American newspapers analyzed. Among the five issues most covered in each country, only the question of rules of origin is shared by the media of all the countries involved.

While there are some similarities between the issues covered in Canada and Mexico, the American newspapers analyzed paint a very different picture of the negotiations. They give a greater emphasis to the ultimate objective of the American negotiators: to re-balance imports and exports with NAFTA partner countries.

If the differences in the coverage of the main issues of NAFTA in American, Canadian and Mexican newspapers is representative of the distance between the positions of the United States and those of the other partner countries, we may expect very long, even interminable, negotiations…

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The #MeToo Tsunami Mon, 11 Dec 2017 14:13:23 +0000 The fall of 2017 was marked by an unprecedented wave of accusations of sexual misconduct. First there was the Weinstein affair, then the creation of #MeToo, quickly adapted in other countries to #MoiAussi, #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman, etc. This movement of solidarity on social networks encouraged many women to publicly express the fact that they were victims of sexual harassment or rape, showing by this very fact the great number of people affected by this type of violence. In its wake, many had the courage to tell journalists about the abuses they had received from powerful and famous men. The tsunami arrived at our doors, taking with it Quebec celebrities including Éric Salvail and Gilbert Rozon.

1st Wave: The Weinstein Affair

On October 5, 2017, the New York Times published an article revealing many sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein that had until then been secret. A few days later,
The New Yorker
followed with a similar investigation, conducted over time, that said Weinstein had committed sexual assault. These articles set off a wave of accusations the following week, which not only inundated the American media, but spread to some extent to every part of the world.

What rapidly became known as the Weinstein Affair thus soared to 2nd place in our top 5 of Quebec news for the week of October 9-15, with an MPS of 3.33%. This first wave nevertheless left no hint of the tsunami to come.

2nd Wave: #MeToo

The expression “Me Too” was first used to make accusations of sexual assault in 2006, on the MySpace social network. It was launched by Tarana Burke. Actress Alyssa Milanno was the source of its re-emergence on October 15, 2017.

Its use hit a new peak the next day, with about 840,000 mentions of this term or its main variants on Twitter. This made it the number one search term used in Canada and the United States between October 15th and 24th.

3rd Wave: The Affairs Proliferate

The third wave of the tsunami of accusations had the greatest media impact in Quebec. The province was hit by several high-profile accusations that had proportionally even greater media coverage than the Weinstein Affair.

It started with an article published in La Presse+ on October 18 alleging numerous cases of sexual harassment involving Éric Salvail. A few hours later, Gilbert Rozon was targeted by allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Ten women, and several more since then, levelled accusations against the magnate of the cultural scene on the 98.5 radio station and in the pages of Le Devoir. The same day, Gilles Parent, FM93 radio personality, was also targeted by new revelations. The first week of accusations concluded on October 20, with fingers pointing at publisher Michel Brûlé. On October 26 it was the turn of Michel Venne, ex-journalist and founder of the Institut du Nouveau-Monde, to be the target of accusations of sexual assault on a minor.

These news stories created a tidal wave in Quebec media which took up 20.27% of the news coverage in the week of October 16-22, then 6.19% of the news coverage the following week (October 23-29). It was the 4th highly covered news story in Quebec in 2017, behind the municipal elections but ahead of Hurricane Irma. Also, the Rozon Affair received the 2nd highest media coverage of Quebec stories outside Quebec in 2017.

Note that a wave of similar accusations hit Kevin Spacey after October 30. Because of his great popularity as an actor, this affair became one of the most highly covered stories in the world in the wake of the #MeToo movement. It reached 4th position among our top 5 in Canada in the week of October 30-November 5, but was not one of the leading stories in Quebec.

The Silence Breakers

This tsunami of accusations reached such a peak that Time Magazine’s person of the year was The Silence Breakers. This news was re-tweeted more than 600,000 times on Twitter on the day of its announcement, December 6: a sign that interest in the subject is far from fading. Where will this tsunami go next? Will it continue through 2018?

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Pot vs. Fentanyl: How High are our Media? Sun, 10 Dec 2017 21:53:39 +0000 Since the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau announced that cannabis would be legalized by July 2018, our media have waged somewhat of a war on pot! Characterized by an overzealous coverage where pot seems to be a growing concern in terms of public health, our media have appeared to neglect one actual and very real problem, one which actually kills people, this time with another drug – the already legal, albeit supposedly “controlled” – fentanyl.

In 2017, pot was the subject of four times more  news articles than fentanyl in the overall news coverage. Moreover, the opioid crisis appears to be significantly less covered in nationwide media. Even though the crisis that started in British Columbia is slowly crawling towards the Atlantic, the media coverage of both fentanyl and the resulting opioid crisis appears to have stagnated.

Comparative Media Coverage of the Legalization of Cannabis vs. Fentanyl

Unsurprisingly, British Columbia, where the opioid crisis killed over 706 people in the first 6 months of 2017, is where the difference between the coverage of cannabis and that of fentanyl is the smallest. And although the number of victims keeps increasing elsewhere in Canada, British Columbia is still the only province where the opioid crisis has had more exposure than the upcoming legalization of cannabis.

Of course, we can’t neglect an important factor: politics. After all, Canadian media love nothing more than politics and its related news. In 2017, federal politics has been the number one topic and dominated 13.14% of the news. Provincial/regional politics occupied 10.84% of Canadian media coverage. Therefore, any subject related to politics will have better traction in the public space, and since the debate surrounding the legalization of cannabis involved both levels of government, it was a perfect subject!

Another important factor is the political affiliation of the media outlet and its usual editorial line. When we look at nationwide media, the one that most covered the opioid crisis is CBC/Radio-Canada, where the coverage of the opioid crisis was almost equal to the coverage of the legalization of cannabis (0.9:1). On the other hand, the ratio of coverage from other prominent media paint a totally different picture. For instance, the National Post covered the legalization of cannabis 5.1 times more than it did the opioid crisis:

Of course, we can’t neglect the numerous impacts the legalization of cannabis will have on our society, but while politicians – and media – argue about how to share the revenues provided by the new cannabis industry between Ottawa and the provinces, an important health issue is being casually ignored by both.

After all, when it comes to public health and law, regulations are only as good as the will and the means to enforce them, and to say that our media share a responsibility in shedding a light on those issues in an understatement.

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