A few years ago, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data engineer, published The truth on Facebook, a revealing dissection of the internal mechanisms by which social media has helped make our times the era of political polarization. The confidant of the Meta universe then gave details of a meeting held with leaders of European parties who resisted the application on social networks of the magic formula with which they saw how ultra groups around the world occupied space digital. The algorithm did not reward, and does not still reward today, courtesy or moderation, but rather insults, mockery or expressions of hatred towards the political opponent. “You make us take positions that we don’t like, that are bad for society, but if we don’t do it, we won’t win in the social media market,” the political parties came to complain, stunned. conventional with the bosses. from Facebook.
The question remains topical, divides the political class and challenges party strategists with this dilemma of modern communication: how to exploit the capacity of the most emotional messages to go viral without having to appeal to anger, fear or to a cruelty more hidden from citizens and future voters. ? How can we make respect for morals in democracies compatible with this language of emotions which seems to invade all the common spaces of a society? Where is the virtuous point that separates innovation in dialogue with citizens from recourse to immodesty in political communication?
This year we have seen some interesting experiments in this area. The concept #SanxeDog He changed sides on social networks and went from insulting the president of the government to icon of the socialist campaign last July. Isabel Díaz Ayuso’s advisors transformed the “son of a bitch” » came out of the mouth of the Madrid president in the middle of the investiture debate, while the candidate Sánchez was speaking, in a “I love fruits” who, like Snow White’s apple, glows with false innocence while her heart stores a small dose of poison. But 2023 has another twist in store for us in the use of social networks for political purposes. The use of blocking the accounts of political opponents on X (formerly Twitter) as a new “zasca”, practiced these days by the current Minister of Transport, Oscar Puente.
Óscar Puente’s zasca in Ayuso was heard even on the moon. Fewer fruit sellers and more politicians talking to the right’s face. pic.twitter.com/C5lOqMvrDK
– Fran Guerrero (@Fran_Guerrero82) December 10, 2023
Let’s look at the facts: the derailment of three trains on the Madrid network in less than two weeks sparked criticism on Twitter last week from President Ayuso and several members of the Madrid government. This is one of the first reported setbacks since Puente took office as transport minister. The native of Valladolid, a newcomer to the national government, is however a Seasoned Twitter user. Since 2010, Puente has published more than 41,500 tweets and has consolidated in his profile a direct, uninhibited, sometimes lacking style, which has allowed him to fight without difficulty in a thousand battles of local politics and against singular actors of far right, among whom It is a black beast. Only this vast experience and his knowledge of the dynamics of the platform can explain why Puente took the risk of slamming the digital door against the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez Almeida, and three Madrid councilors.
From the outset, blocking users on Twitter when you are a politician does not seem to be a strongly recommended practice. The newspaper’s archives show similar cases in other latitudes: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blocked several compatriots in 2018 and Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro did the same in 2021 with a critical journalist. In 2019, a US Federal Court established that Donald Trump engaged in an unconstitutional practice by blocking several Twitter users who criticized him, since his presidential account should be considered a public forum. The fact that Trump blocked access to several users therefore constitutes an attack on freedom of expression.
More than a legal debate, Óscar Puente proposed a political crisis management strategy based on an institutional villain: he ignored several political adversaries without the need for insults, memes and swearing, he monopolized the conversation on networks and managed to divert media attention from the real problem, the derailments, towards their own way of doing politics, celebrated by many socialist sympathizers, tired of maintaining a correction that other parties have abandoned . The aggrieved politicians, for their part, contributed to the dissemination of the “Puente brand” with many tweets regretting the offense they suffered. Some insults also fell: “thug”, Puente described the mayor of Madrid on Monday. The new Minister of Transport, at this stage, will owe part of his promotion as a national politician to them. According to the SocialBlade tool, in just seven days, Óscar Puente gained 7,000 followers, 5,000 of them in the last 24 hours. A real boost for a personal brand.
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