Positive Twitter Day, Friday 28 August

Posted on 24 August 2020

Today our politics, political discourse and even our society can often feel a lot more divided than any of us would like, writes Steve Ballinger. That’s particularly the case on social media, where debate seems to escalate quickly into abuse. Of course, there will always be disagreement on the big issues of the day. But in real life, most of us can disagree without shouting at each other. It seems we apply different rules on social media – but do they have to apply? Couldn’t we decide to change them?

Positive Twitter Day – Friday 28 August this year – is an attempt to do just that.  It isn’t about getting everyone to agree with each other, or to stop tweeting about politics and just share pictures of kittens. Nor is it about who we should block or kick off Twitter, or about the platform’s policy for what’s acceptable and what isn’t. That’s an important conversation that all social media platforms must engage with seriously – but a separate one. Our Director Sunder Katwala discussed these issues, highlighting failings that were highlighted in Twitter’s response to recent antisemitic tweets from the artist Wiley, in this CapX piece.

Positive Twitter Day is about us as participants and what we can do to promote more civil political debate online. It’s about disagreeing better: asking what can we do, as social media users, to set the norms of online behaviour that we want to see.

You can take part in any number of ways:

  • Try to have a conversation, not a shouting match, with someone with whom you don’t agree. Caps lock off.
  • Tweet about somebody on the other side of a big debate – but whose views and perspective you have learnt something from, because of how they engage.
  • Share a positive experience of using twitter – how people rallied round to support you personally, or how it helped you spread the word about something that really mattered.
  • Or just join in the discussion and show your support with the #PositiveTwitterDay hashtag.

We also want to use Positive Twitter Day to spark a broader conversation – on Twitter and other platforms where you can use more characters – about how we, as users, can shape the norms that we want on social media. There’s a lot of agreement that Twitter today can be an angrier and more difficult place than it was, say, five years ago – but maybe not enough discussion about what we can do to change that.

What difference can a day make?  Positive Twitter Day won’t, on its own, change the way we discuss and debate online. But it can show us that civil debate is possible on social media – and perhaps that it can be a bit more enjoyable than a shouting match.

Some research also suggests it could do a bit more than that. A study published last year, Civility and trust in social media, tested the impact of civility and incivility online. Depressingly, it found that most people see incivility as the norm on social media. More positively, it also found that even minimal exposure to civil online interaction has a positive effect on social trust.

So we hope you’ll join us for Positive Twitter Day on Friday 28 August.