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From YouTube to Twitter, Ottawa heard it all during the G20

If you're worrying whether anyone is really reading your blog or Twitter musings, take comfort in the possibility there may be folks in official Ottawa following your political postings.

In the lead-up to last year's Group of Eight and Group of 20 meetings in Muskoka and Toronto, the Canadian government went to significant lengths to monitor Internet chatter and criticism of summits, documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show.

Federal officials' scrutiny of the Web strayed far beyond what the mainstream media said, dissecting, tabulating and reporting on what individuals, unions and universities said on weblogs, Twitter accounts, YouTube and photo sites such as Flickr.com.

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The exercise - analyzing thousands of Internet references to the G8 and G20 summits - demonstrates how concerned Ottawa was about public perception of the meetings, the success or failure of which would ultimately reflect on the Harper government.

The Summits Management Office generated weekly reports on Internet chatter, complete with graphs and charts that tracked Web commentary and measured how successful government announcements tied to the meetings were in their "penetration" of mainstream media and blogs.

One of the studies prepared in late May, 2010, combed through 7,250 summit references to measure how disgruntlement about the security plans for the meetings radiated beyond the mainstream media to non-journalist bloggers. "Costs, perimeter fencing and sound cannons displaced nearly every other topic," a report for May 25 to May 31 said.

"The overwhelming tone across all three tiers: negative and critical," it said. "Summit security costs were the primary lightning rod for the criticism."

The analysis, which was obtained under access-to-information legislation, tracked the growth of anger over security costs across the blogosphere and Twitterverse.

"Continuing to increase … are blog and Twitter posts which express an original, but often negative impression of the summits," it said. "For example, 'Wow. The cost of security for the G8/G20 summit could house the homeless. Or even better pay off my mortgage.' "

Bureaucrats even counted whether bloggers were anti-Israel or pro-Israel when they drew links between pre-summit announcements on nuclear non-proliferation talks, a visit to Canada by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel's interception of ships trying to break the Gaza Strip blockade.

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"Blogs that touched on Middle Eastern issues picked up on all three events, intertwining them in either anti-Israeli or pro-Israeli editorials 11 times," the summit Internet report said. It noted that of these posts, nine were "anti-Israel [and]two pro-Israel."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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