Canadians Really Are Nicer People, But Only Online

The Canadian moose is just as aggressive, until it goes on social media. lantapix/Shutterstock

National stereotypes are dangerous things, often the products of racism and frequently used to justify wars. That doesn't mean there is never any truth to them, however, and a study of almost 40 million tweets has reported that Canadians are nicer people on social media than their southern neighbors. It should be noted, however, the analysis was done by Canadians, so skeptics may seek independent confirmation.

McMaster University PhD student Daniel Schmidtke created an algorithm to compare the words and symbols used on Twitter and to identify which were disproportionately used by Canadians compared to residents of the United States.

"The most distinctive word choices of Americans and Canadians on Twitter paint a very accurate and familiar picture of the stereotypes we associate with people from these nations," Schmidtke said in a statement.

Favored Canadian words included: “great”, “thanks”, “amazing”, and “happy”. American tweets were more likely to include “hate”, “mad” and “tired”.

Other differences were less predictable, with Americans being more fond of Internet shorthand such as “lol”. Americans on Twitter use more emotionally charged emojis than Canadians, who prefer emoticons. When Canadians do use emojis, they tend to choose happier ones than their southern counterparts.

It's not hard to pick which of these word clouds is Canadian and which comes from the USA. Bryor Snefjella, Daniel Schmidtke

The findings confirm and expand on a previous study Schmidtke undertook of a smaller number of tweets, which also included English and Scottish individuals on Twitter for comparison.

Schmidtke notes in PLOS One that past studies testing Canadians' reputation for niceness and positivity have consistently found it to be a myth. Why should it appear on Twitter, but not in everyday life?

To answer this, Schmidtke collected a group of 80 North Americans, evenly divided between the two nations, and showed them the words and emojis most favored by one country or the other, without telling them how the words were chosen. Participants were asked to describe the personalities of people who used these words a lot, and came up with descriptions that almost perfectly matched US and Canadian stereotypes.

Schmidtke and co-authors argue we are witnessing a process known as identity construction in action. Being aware of the stereotypes, people become inclined to act them out, particularly when interacting with people from other nations. Presumably, this applies a lot more strongly to Canadians, who so often find themselves a small minority in online spaces, than to Americans surrounded by their compatriots.

The study may appear amusing but irrelevant, but identity construction is a serious business. If people have a tendency to adopt the persona attributed to them, then stereotypes can come to shape the future – portraying their neighbors as positive, friendly, and nice may have helped America preserve a peaceful border.

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