Politics Analysis

Goodbye Twitter, goodbye civil discourse

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Elon Musk has transformed Twitter into an environment where healthy debate no longer exists (Image by Dan Jensen)

Civil discourse and healthy debate are dead on Twitter/X and the platform will soon die with it.

*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.

Rabid, Right-wing trolling of progressives, however, is not confined to social media. The culture of abuse towards progressives – a war on “woke” – now defines Right-wing politics globally, destroying any chance of civil, constructive democratic debate.

Writing to advertisers after acquiring Twitter for US$44 billion (AU$69.3 billion), Elon Musk criticised traditional media’s ‘relentless pursuit of clicks’ which he said had fueled and catered to extremes of far-Right and far-Left echo chambers.

Musk said this polarisation meant an ‘opportunity for dialogue’ was lost. He wanted Twitter to be a healthy debate in a ‘common digital town square’, not a ‘free-for-all hellscape’.

A year later, Musk’s Twitter – now called X – is exactly the hellscape from which he promised to protect us, where healthy debate and opportunities for dialogue are non-existent.

Musk’s X is now a joyless, resentment-ridden-troll-filled cesspit of faceless users with small follower numbers who use the platform to abuse accounts they deem to be too progressive, woke, tolerant, interested in social justice or educated. It is nothing like the vibrant, lively, interesting, informative place it was before Musk’s rein. Mis/disinformation is rife and hate-filled abuse is the norm.

As chief fisher of clicks, Musk sets the hellscape tone with his X account. This post is indicative of Musk’s contributions to the toxic, hateful political culture on the platform he has created.

(Source: Twitter)

The Musk-led troll takeover of Twitter/X has made it an unbearable place to be for progressives. During the Voice Referendum, I was pummelled with abuse every time I posted. Replies to my tweets appeared so quickly that it was clear trolls had notifications set to ensure they got in quick with their bile. Perhaps some were bots posting automated hate. It didn’t matter how many I blocked, there were always hundreds and thousands more.

This trolling abuse was personal, vitriolic, hate-filled, often racist towards Indigenous people and unending. I sensed that as more progressives left Twitter/X, those remaining like me became targets for the trolls. When I called out their bad behaviour, they were even more vicious.

These trolls are extremists, rage-filled, hateful stains on society and they have destroyed the place that used to be called Twitter. These troll accounts do not post anything themselves — they only reply to those they disagree with. They never engage thoughtfully or eloquently with different perspectives or ideas, but just use the platform for what feels like a game, with the aim of seeing how much they can outrage and hurt their political opponents.

As an avid Twitter user since 2010, I am sorry to say I now spend very little time there. I am trying out Threads and BlueSky instead.

The thing is, these trolls are just a symptom of an increasingly extreme Right-wing political and media culture where rational, reasonable and civil discourse is dead. Elon Musk might be king of the social media trolls, but he is no different in reality to Right-wing politicians across the globe who exist to create division and fear, whipping up hatred towards progressives. Musk is no different from Right-wing media which also exists to weaponise hatred and division to create a never-ending cultural and political war against progress.

This war is not just waged against progressive politicians but is also against symbols of progress, including minorities, unions, experts, scientists, environmentalists, human rights campaigners and anyone fighting against inequality.

Donald Trump is the worldwide king of the trolls and many others try to emulate his template. Australia’s chief troll is Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. As far as Dutton’s Liberals are concerned, there is no such thing as constructive opposition, bipartisan consensus in the public interest, or reasonable critique to find the best path forward.

In Dutton’s world, an opportunity for reconciliation with Indigenous people was just a good excuse to use hate to divide Australia and undermine Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. The Gaza conflict is also an opportunity to whip up fear and hatred, to turn Australians against each other and to undermine the Government. No action is too petty, no strategy too opportunistic, no low too low for the Dutton-led Liberals.

Murdoch media also does everything it can to perpetuate this troll-like political culture of division, polarisation, fear, anger and intolerance. Every political issue – whether it be the Voice, trans peoples’ rights, the Gaza conflict, climate change or the cost of living crisis – is used by News Corp as fodder for a political campaign against “woke”, progress and centrally, the Labor Government.

I might be able to leave the Twitter/X trolls behind by deleting the app. There is no hiding away from Australia’s increasingly fractious, polarised, uncivil political culture.

*This article is also available on audio here:

Dr Victoria Fielding is an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Victoria on Twitter (for now) @DrVicFielding.

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