12/04/2021

The degradation of public debate on Twitter

2 min
Ada Colau in a recent image, at a plenary session of the Barcelona City Council
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"In recent years it is known to all that the network [Twitter] has been filled with fake and anonymous profiles that intoxicate and incite hatred. Many of them are even bought with money (bots) by the far right." This was one of the arguments given by the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, to justify her decision to leave Twitter, an unusual move for an active politician who has almost a million followers on this social network. Colau's gesture, however, is the demonstration of a phenomenon that many experts and users have long warned was occurring: the degradation of public debate on this social network.

You only have to enter some profiles to see how often you see mass lynchings and coordinated attacks that pollute and make any kind of dialogue impossible, how people are denigrated with impunity and racist or homophobic attitudes are on the rise. Twitter is in danger of becoming an unpleasant place only suitable for fanatics and ill-mannered people who pour out all their resentment and social hatred. A place, in short, which is better not visited. As the former Barça player Thierry Henry, who has decided to leave the network until he stops receiving racist insults, has already requested, Twitter should take measures to prevent these phenomena. The police and the public prosecutor's office also need to be more diligent in detecting threats, intimidation and hate speech.

If we limit the problem to the political sphere, however, the situation becomes even more complicated. The parties have long since turned the web into a battlefield, each with its own army of influencers who engage in public battles. This dynamic ends up accentuating society's political polarisation, and also makes people end up living inside their own bubbles, only following only people who think like them, thus reinforcing the social fracture and creating parallel worlds that do not interact with each other.

There are also politicians who have turned it into their main loudspeaker, as is the case of the former president of the United States Donald Trump. Indeed, Trump has found Twitter to be a very effective weapon to bypass the mediation of the media and reach his audience directly without any filter on the content of his messages, which are often fake news. The far right (but not only) is the political movement that has best exploited social networks for their political interests, according to the expert Carmela Ríos. They have found an ideal vehicle of communication both to spread their messages and to intimidate their opponents through thousands of profiles that are often bots.

Colau says she is leaving Twitter to make better policies and be a better person. We don't know if she will succeed, but in any case it would be appropriate that her case serves to open a deep reflection on the use of social networks and the level of public debate we want to have as a society. Luckily for everyone, Twitter is not reality, but it may end up influencing it.

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