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Populism and polarization in the digital arena : categorising and measuring political attacks on Twitter

García Benítez-D'Ávila, Héctor (2022) Populism and polarization in the digital arena : categorising and measuring political attacks on Twitter.

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Abstract:In an increasingly polarised political environment with the rise of populism in Western democracies, some politicians use Twitter to attack their opponents with ad-hominem arguments. Ad-hominem arguments are those that, instead of addressing the point of the discussion, are directed towards personally attacking the other candidate. This study seeks to analyse the types of ad-hominem arguments used by politicians on Twitter while measuring and comparing the engagement of these tweets. The aim is to raise awareness of this issue and to demand counterstrategies and policies from social media platforms and political parties. To establish a categorisation of political attacks, a content analysis was performed on the 1378 tweets by the main six political candidates that ran for the elections for the Community of Madrid in 2021 that were tweeted during the campaign period. These tweets were coded and a final codebook was established determining 18 types of political personal attacks that were used during this campaign. Additionally, these categorised tweets were tested to look for significant differences in their engagement. In this study, a categorisation of political attacks was created via coding; 18 types of personal attacks were found to be used by politicians on Twitter. Regarding these attacks, the most used by politicians consists in highlighting their opposition’s bad governance by calling them negligent or forcing them to change their point of view. However, when it comes to engagement, addressing others as violent or corrupted in regards to media generates the most responses and attacks directed to resting the credibility of the opponents generates the most RTs and Favs. Addressing others as radicals, anti-democratic, or trying to exclude them from the dialogue (for example, by proposing a cordon sanitaire) generates the highest engagement in comparison to the number of followers, measured through a construct called “interactor ratio”. When comparing the engagement among different types of tweets, attacks showed significantly higher engagement than non-attacks for all Twitter metrics, while ad-hominem arguments showed only a significantly higher interactor ratio than non-ad-hominem attacks.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Unknown organization, Boadilla del Monte
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:05 communication studies, 89 political science
Programme:Communication Studies MSc (60713)
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