OTTAWA — Data gathered by Google and Twitter shows Canadians are amassing online to discuss and fact−check the federal leaders’ debate.
Google searches during the first part of the much−anticipated leaders’ debate focused on many of the statements that the leaders themselves were talking about.
Google Canada’s Leslie Church said the questions the search giant saw from Canada included, "who does Justin Trudeau consider to be part of the middle class," and "Is the Canada Pension Plan a tax?"
"People are trying to figure out how to interpret what the leaders are saying," Church said.
On Twitter, more than 15,000 users were tweeting about the debate, with half of them being in Ontario, data from Twitter Canada shows.
For Google and Twitter, the leader whose name came up the most was Trudeau, the Liberal leader, edging out Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Twitter mentions, and pulling in twice the number of Google searches than the incumbent Conservative leader.
The data may seem frivolous, but every piece of information means something to campaigning parties as they pay close attention to social media and craft strategies to use its reach to identify and target voters.
Google handles thousands of searches per second, and also controls YouTube, where parties have been keen to post attack ads that can be easily shared on social networks.
Facebook has more than 19 million users in Canada, a hefty number that is likely to draw the attention of every camp as they set up candidate pages, reach out to supporters and advertise to the undecided in a bid to win power on Oct. 19.
Twitter, too, could have a glut of votes for parties. Data from the company suggests that three−fifths of the possible 13 million users are undecided.
One sign of the times: the Liberals sponsored the "elxn42" hashtag — or more precisely Trudeau sponsored it, according to the Twitter website — and the hashtag for Thursday night’s debate, "macdebate," was trending in Canada.
Twitter Canada’s head of government partnerships, Steve Ladurantaye, said social media is no longer "a niche thing" for candidates and parties.
"Social media is an integral part of every campaign," Ladurantaye said. "It’s a lot harder to ignore now than it used to be and it’s actually an integral part of what’s happening."
Going into the debate, Harper had topped his opponents in Google searches and mentions on Facebook, and his Twitter account had been mentioned more often than any other leader during the first week of the campaign.
In all three cases, Harper was followed by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair running third.
Google data about search terms over the last six months show Canadians were asking the most about jobs, following by soaring housing prices, plummeting oil prices, the tax free savings account and the Canada Pension Plan.
The economy is what Canadians are talking about online, based on data from Google, Facebook and Twitter. On both Twitter and Facebook, the economy topped the list of the most discussed issues.
Possibly to the Conservatives’ delight, the number five search term on the environment was "carbon tax" — a term Conservatives have used to describe the plans of the NDP to curb greenhouse gases, usually preceded with the words "job"and "killing."
And lest the Conservatives think that all those issues give them an edge in the campaign, the trial of Sen. Mike Duffy and the Senate and its myriad scandals were also among the most popular searches — issues that the NDP and Liberals are looking to hang on Harper.