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The Rob Ford effect: Social media activity skyrockets amid Toronto scandal

Mayor Rob Ford tells media to get off his property as he leaves his home in Toronto on Oct. 31, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette.

The Rob Ford scandal has triggered a massive response on social media — similar to reaction to the deaths of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Osama bin Laden.

According to Marketwired research provided exclusively to CityNews, people have mentioned Rob Ford more than 1.5 million times on social media — including more than 1.4 million tweets — since Chief Bill Blair confirmed on Oct. 31 that a video exists of the mayor appearing to smoke crack cocaine.

Data crunched using Marketwired’s Sysomos software revealed Ford was mentioned on average 66,410 times a day — or 2,767 times an hour — during the first three weeks of November.

Before the scandal, Ford was mentioned fewer than 5,000 times a day.

More than 16,000 videos mentioning Ford were uploaded to sites like YouTube and Vimeo since the end of last month.

And although most of the tweets have come from Canada (45.2 per cent) and the United States (37.6 per cent), people as far away as Botswana, Qatar, Turkmenistan, Yemen and Chile were sharing their thoughts via social media.

Twitter heat map; Rob Ford Scandal

“Anytime we see a big scandal or some big story break you do get these rather large spikes in conversation around it,” said Sheldon Levine, community manager at Toronto-based Marketwired.

Levine said when Ford admitted to smoking crack, people in Toronto started sharing the story on their Twitter feeds, and that’s how it spread globally to people who don’t necessarily read local news from Canada.

“Usually something local can become very widespread around the world [because of social media],” he said.

According to Marketwired, a tweet by Chris Farley’s brother Kevin Farley was the most popular during the period, garnering more than 12,000 re-tweets.

Also, Levine said, most of the re-tweets have come from comedians and talk show hosts, like Bill Maher and Conan O’Brien, who have helped spread the story to their huge audiences.


By comparison, there were about 2.5 million tweets in a 24-hour period about the death of Steve Jobs and 2.2 million tweets in 12 hours about Osama bin Laden’s demise. The spike in traffic resulting from the Ford story, however, is similar to the reaction to those events.

That said, Levine is not sure the Ford scandal will have as lasting an effect.

“Are people really going to be talking about Rob Ford for a long time?” Levine said. “Time will tell.”

Other highlights from the research:

  • Men were twice as likely to tweet about the scandal than women (68 per cent vs. 32 per cent)
  • More than 55,000 news stories about Ford have been published since Oct. 31
  • The tweets were 31 per cent negative, 14 per cent positive and 55 per cent neutral
  • Within Canada, the tweets originated from Ontario (77 per cent); B.C. (7.5 per cent); Quebec (5.5 per cent); Alberta (5.5 per cent); rest of Canada (five per cent)
  • Worldwide, the breakdown was: Canada (45 per cent); U.S. (38 per cent); UK (three per cent); other (14 per cent)