The Russian invasion of Ukraine selectively depolarized the Finnish NATO discussion on Twitter
Department of Computer Science, Aalto University, Espoo, Finland
2 Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Accepted: 13 December 2023
Published online: 3 January 2024
It is often thought that an external threat increases the internal cohesion of a nation, and thus decreases polarization. We examine this proposition by analyzing NATO discussion dynamics on Finnish social media following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In Finland, public opinion on joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had long been polarized along the left-right partisan axis, but the invasion led to a rapid convergence of opinion toward joining NATO. We investigate whether and how this depolarization took place among polarized actors on Finnish Twitter. By analyzing retweet patterns, we find three separate user groups before the invasion: a pro-NATO, a left-wing anti-NATO, and a conspiracy-charged anti-NATO group. After the invasion, the left-wing anti-NATO group members broke out of their retweeting bubble and connected with the pro-NATO group despite their difference in partisanship, while the conspiracy-charged anti-NATO group mostly remained a separate cluster. Our content analysis reveals that the left-wing anti-NATO group and the pro-NATO group were bridged by a shared condemnation of Russia’s actions and shared democratic norms, while the other anti-NATO group, mainly built around conspiracy theories and disinformation, consistently demonstrated a clear anti-NATO attitude. We show that an external threat can bridge partisan divides in issues linked to the threat, but bubbles upheld by conspiracy theories and disinformation may persist even under dramatic external threats.
Key words: Political polarization / Social media / External threat / Conspiracy theory / Disinformation
© The Author(s) 2024
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