The Samara Centre for Democracy and Areto Labs partnered to deploy the Samara Areto Monitorbot (aka SAMbot or SAM) during the 2021 Canadian federal election. SAM used AI to track toxic tweets received by incumbent candidates and political party leaders on the digital campaign trail. SAM served as a neutral observer and collected critical insights into the current state of Canada’s online political space.

“While it is commonly understood that toxic online spaces are harming our democracy, there is little data that illustrates the extent of the problem,” said Sabreena Delhon, the Samara Centre’s Executive Director. “As a result, we don’t have effective regulations, policies and social norms for online conduct as part of Canadian politics. As political discourse is generally at its most toxic during campaigns, the federal election is an excellent opportunity for SAM to highlight the current state of Canada’s online political conversations.”

Each message that SAM tracked — whether a reply, quote tweet or mention — was analyzed on seven point toxicity attributes. SAM had the capacity to monitor millions of tweets and was able to distinguish between a disagreement and a threat.

The collection of this data can enable critical dialogue and inform nuanced approaches to mitigating the toxicity of online political spaces in Canada.

“More so than ever, campaigning takes place on social media, where we’re seeing significant negative political discourse towards those seeking public office. The Samara Centre’s innovative approach to improving accessibility and inclusivity within Canadian politics makes them the perfect partner for Areto Labs, and we are thrilled to work together to solve big problems by combining our machine learning technology with their big ideas,” said Kasey Machin, Co-Founder of Areto Labs.

SAM has built on the work of Areto Labs’ ParityBOT, which, since 2019, has tracked candidates in elections held in Canada, the United States, and New Zealand. Its findings will inform forthcoming research about how the quality of political conversation can be improved.

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The Samara Centre for Democracy

The Samara Centre for Democracy is a non-partisan charity dedicated to strengthening Canada’s democracy. The Samara Centre produces innovative, action-oriented research that illuminates the evidence and reforms needed to make Canadian politics more accessible, responsive, and inclusive. Through original engagement programming, we provide active citizens and public leaders with tools and resources designed to engage Canadians in their democracy.

Areto Labs

Areto Labs is building the future of work by using machine learning and behavioral science to make digital communities more positive and inclusive. A female-founded Canadian technology company based in Edmonton, their ParityBOT concept is explained in the paper Women, politics and Twitter: Using machine learning to change the discourse