Does Twitter have the numbers to become a threat to democracy?

Does Twitter have the numbers to become a threat to democracy?

What will happen to Twitter now that it has become the property of Elon Musk? How will the free speech absolutist, as the South African billionaire call himself, handle disinformation on his new platform? Above all, does the latter really have the numbers for free speech to become the constitutional legitimation of fake news and hatred from the cornerstone of democracy?

If it takes time to answer the first two questions, data is enough for the third . Numbers, contained in the Digital 2022 report produced by We Are Social in collaboration with Hootsuite, which say that at the moment the potential impact of a Twitter dominated by trolls and disinformation would be limited. Assuming and not conceding that this is what Musk, who has already said he wants to eliminate spam bots, has in mind.

The situation in the world Now, according to the daily Twitter users report, in January of this year, it was 217 million. That is just under one in twenty human beings, calculating only those over 13, the minimum age to open an account. To measure the potential impact of the platform, however, the choice was to use another indicator, i.e. relative to the users potentially reachable through a sponsored campaign. Which leads to 436 million people, 7.5% of the world population over 13 years old. With a rather significant footnote: the Twitter account is included in the list, but does not vote in the elections. And so are all the other corporate or institutional accounts, however difficult to quantify. This from a general point of view. The situation gets a bit more complicated by looking at the numbers in detail.

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Here if you do not see the graph The map shows the percentage, according to the geographical regions codified by the United Nations, of people over 13 reachable with an advertisement on Twitter. The heaviest weight of the platform, which is not surprising, is felt in North America, where a sponsored tweet can potentially reach 26.9% of the population. Obviously, having the necessary money to support the investment. In the old continent, similar percentages are recorded only in between Scandinavia, the Baltic countries and the British Isles.

In the rest of the world, the weight is much more reduced: it is close to 20% in the Middle East, not exactly the cradle of democracy, except for Israel. And even in North Africa, where the platform had been the protagonist of the riots in the square of the Arab Spring, it is just over 5%.

The situation in Europe Crossing the Mediterranean to the north, it also mapped the percentage of the population over 13 that can be reached with a sponsored tweet in individual European countries. The situation is summarized in the graph below.

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Here if you do not see the graph The three countries in which the weight of Twitter is largest are Iceland, Ireland and the United Kingdom, where the share of the population that can be reached exceeds 30% of those over 13. Among these is the country of Brexit, in which Russian trolls have played a role in influencing the vote in leave favor. But where, it should be remembered, the controversial message that the exit from the Union would guarantee 350 million pounds a day more available to the national health service appeared on the buses before it on the network.

For the countries that have instead decided to stay in the European Union, the matter becomes even more complex. In the sense that Twitter will also have to comply with the Digital services act, a community legislation that requires platforms to be transparent with respect to the choices of moderation and above all greater commitment in combating disinformation and violence.

In all this, Italy remains . Here, according to the data of the Digital 2022 report, the share of over 13s that can be reached with a sponsored tweet is equal to 7%. The same source says that 90.8% of Italians between 16 and 64 use Whatsapp once a month, 78.6% Facebook, 71.6% Instagram. Wanting to pollute the public debate or even influence the elections, maybe Twitter is not exactly the platform to start from.

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