Meet the Facebook Group Trying to Reshape Politics - 2018-10-05
Ballingall is the force behind Ontario Proud, a conservative-leaning Facebook group. It is not formally affiliated with the Progressive Conservative Party—or any political organ—but, in only two years, it has developed an audience large enough that the group can credibly claim to be as influential as many mainstream news outlets on social media. (Ballingall himself has not been shy about taking a slice of the credit for helping to defeat Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne during the last Ontario election.) CBC Toronto is liked by about 150,000 people on Facebook; Ontario Proud—run by Ballingall, a video editor, an intern, a few freelancers, and a junior consultant—has been liked by more than 390,000, and its content reliably racks up hundreds more comments, likes, and shares than the news stories posted by established outlets.
Although the group's real-world influence is difficult to quantify, Ballingall will happily supply engagement statistics that he says suggest Ontario Proud's easy, memetic content is reaching millions of people. It has ambitions to reach many millions more. Ballingall plans to expand his model and says he is working with teams in Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec to form similar groups. Already, he has set his sights on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Ballingall created Ontario Proud in 2016, loosely modelling it after similar Facebook page Alberta Proud. A lifelong conservative with links to right-wing politicians, parties, and media outlets, Ballingall was sick of risk-averse political campaigns and political jobs that didn't allow him to connect with voters on social media. Creating his own Facebook page, by comparison, gave him control. Finally, he could talk about the things that made him passionate, the things that inspired his "visceral" hatred for the Ontario Liberals—their coziness in office, poor fiscal management, and all-around patronizing airs. (The Ontario Liberals were beset by scandals in the years leading up to their defeat. One example: David Livingston, a former chief of staff to then premier Dalton McGuinty, was recently sentenced to four months in jail for wiping government computers in connection with the cancellation of gas-fired power plants in 2011.)