Do Word-Count Constraints Affect Populism and Verbal Violence? Evidence from Twitter Data in Italy

58 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2023

See all articles by Gabriele Beccari

Gabriele Beccari

Scuola Normale Superiore; University of Rome Tor Vergata

Leonardo Becchetti

University of Rome Tor Vergata - Faculty of Economics

Gianluigi Conzo

University of Rome Tor Vergata - Department of Economics and Finance

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 24, 2023

Abstract

Our research hypothesis is that space restriction on social media communication creates fertile ground for aggressive, insulting and apodictic (AIA) speech thereby deteriorating the political debate and enhancing polarisation, violence and populism. We test our hypothesis by using as identification mechanism the decision of Twitter to double tweets’ length (from 140 to 280 characters) since November the 7th 2017. We use a machine learning classification approach and find with a discontinuity design diff-in-diff estimate that the event significantly and markedly reduced likes and retweets of aggressive, insulting and apodictic tweets in the political domain in the three-day interval around the policy change. Falsification tests show that our result is not spurious and the reduction in the share of aggressive, insulting and apodictic replies to a given political tweet after the character count change goes in support of our hypothesis. Our conclusion is that the Twitter reform has reduced attractiveness of aggressive speech thereby making the social media platform a less fertile ground for polarisation.

Keywords: Social media; populism; aggressive behaviour; Twitter; BERT

JEL Classification: A13, I12, L82

Suggested Citation

Beccari, Gabriele and Becchetti, Leonardo and Conzo, Gianluigi, Do Word-Count Constraints Affect Populism and Verbal Violence? Evidence from Twitter Data in Italy (January 24, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4336063 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4336063

Gabriele Beccari

Scuola Normale Superiore ( email )

Piazza dei Cavalieri, 7
Pisa, 56126
Italy

University of Rome Tor Vergata ( email )

Via di Tor Vergata
Rome, Lazio 00133
Italy

Leonardo Becchetti (Contact Author)

University of Rome Tor Vergata - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Via Columbia, 2
I-00133 Rome
Italy

Gianluigi Conzo

University of Rome Tor Vergata - Department of Economics and Finance ( email )

Rome
Italy

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