STEVEN FORTI | 05 FEBRUARY 2021
Illustration by Getty Images
That social networks have become a dunghill is nothing new. The problem is that by dint of repeating it, we have become accustomed to it: we have almost accepted it, albeit with resignation. However, it cannot be considered normal that hate speech, racism, xenophobia, sexist insults and a long etcetera fill Twitter or Facebook. The complicit silence of a large part of users – and of society, after all – leads to the normalisation of these discourses and, consequently, their gradual legitimisation.
What is more, these discourses are increasingly leaving the cage of social networks and reaching the media and politics, contaminating public opinion as a whole. The US case showed us this clearly: from 4 Chan, 8 Chan and Reddit, hate speech and all its declinations – including harassment and death threats – reached mainstream social networks and alternative ultra-right-wing media – Breitbart News – and finally other not so alternative media – Fox News – and institutional politics itself – Trump and his acolytes. When this happens, it is very difficult to turn back.
Around these parts, many shouted in outrage when what was happening in the United States was explained, thinking with a certain dose of naïveté or hypocrisy that Catalonia would be immune to these phenomena. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we have seen in recent weeks is just the straw that breaks the camel’s back and shows how the discourse of hatred is very present, as well as being legitimised and even exploited politically and electorally by some political forces.
Of course, Vox has made this one of its battle horses in the fight against what it defines as political correctness, following in the wake of Trumpism and the American Alt-Right. However, independentism also has Trumpist sectors, however much it may hate to admit it. And I am not just referring to the post-fascist groupings of the Front Nacional de Catalunya or the Moviment Identitari Català.
In this election campaign we have already had three high-profile cases, all linked to the group led by Carles Puigdemont. Firstly, the tweets of Josep Sort, president of Reagrupament and candidate for JxCAT in Barcelona, who went so far as to write with impunity that “We will clean out Spaniards” or that “Colau is nothing more than a Spanish hysterical whore”. In second place, Albert Donaire, sectoral spokesman for the Mossos d’Esquadra of the ANC and also a candidate for JxCAT in Barcelona, who published a supremacist and xenophobic video against Andalusians. Thirdly, Jordi Galves, a well-known talk show host close to Puigdemont’s party and columnist for El Nacional, who in an article in the newspaper founded by José Antich, has once again poured out his chauvinist and ethno-nationalist bile, this time against the Comuns candidate, Jessica Albiach. Are these cases isolated? Sadly not. They are just the tip of the iceberg.
JxCAT’s number 3, the president of the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, Joan Canadell, is not new to demonstrations bordering on all this. In addition to appreciating Trump or supporting the hoaxes of the Institut de Nova Història, last April Canadell even wrote that “Spain is unemployment and death”, while Catalonia, according to him, would be “life and future”. Thus, Josefina Lladós, mayor of Ribera d’Urgellet for JxCAT and at the time president of the Regional Council of Alt Urgell, has been pouring hate on Twitter for years, calling, for example, Miquel Iceta “miserable” and a “rat whore”.
There is no need to recall the tweets of the former president of the Catalan Parliament, Núria de Gispert, calling leaders of Ciudadanos and the PP “pigs”. And as far as the media are concerned, it is enough to take another look in the newspaper archives at the articles of a few years ago by Bernat Dedéu and Enric Vila in El Nacional and Pau Vidal in Vilaweb. Dedéu, by the way, goes on and on: recently, he has insulted Albiach herself – one of the favourite targets of trumpismo.cat for being a woman, left-wing and non-nationalist, as well as, alas, Valencian – distilling doses of classism and that “soft” xenophobia so typical of the new extreme right. We could go on, but I think that is enough.
It would be very dishonest to write these tweets off as mistakes due to a bad day or one drink too many. It would be more difficult to justify these articles as the outbursts of some supposed l’enfant prodige of local journalism. But that’s what often happens, in parallel to a more or less notorious polemic that nobody remembers a few days later. This is how we think we can clear our conscience: in reality, we sweep the rubbish under the carpet, as if it didn’t exist. And after a few weeks or a few months we go back to business as usual when another insult makes the news.
The fact is that the problem exists and has been growing in recent years. And its impact goes beyond the statements or articles mentioned: just look at what is being written on Twitter or Facebook. It is not just about bot, trolls, suckpuppet and organised networks – which is also true – but about many users who no longer have any qualms about pouring out their hatred online, possibly venting their anger and frustration. Anyone who thinks differently becomes an enemy to be hated. Instead of being a richness, slow debate and discussion between those who have distant opinions has become a mirage. The solution, then, cannot be simply to apologise, to say it won’t happen again or, at best, to expel from the party and remove from the electoral lists those who made unacceptable statements. Are we an adult society or not? Well, everyone needs to assume their responsibilities.
Let’s be clear once and for all: this is not about independence or Spanishism. Nor is it about freedom of expression, as the ultra-right tends to repeat. Hate speech – with all its derivatives – is a real cancer for democratic coexistence. Wherever it comes from. Either we stop it as soon as possible or the future will be very dark indeed. And here the effort has to be collective, beyond the political philias or phobias that each one of us has. There must be red lines that cannot be crossed. And it is not just a matter of the companies that manage social networks having protocols in this respect -which they do too-, but of us as a society reaching a consensus to avoid the normalisation and legitimisation of hate speech. It should not be difficult to find the lowest common denominators: all it takes is a little will (including political will).
Is it acceptable that a party like Vox blames foreigners for most of the crimes committed in Spain? Is it acceptable that a JxCAT candidate publishes a video in which he accuses Andalusians of not working and living at the expense of Catalans? Is it acceptable that other JxCAT politicians insult representatives of other parties? Is it acceptable that a newspaper that receives public funding from the Generalitat, such as El Nacional, publishes articles like those of Jordi Galves where macho insults are spat? Is it acceptable that some of these hate speech spewers are invited as talk show hosts in public and private media? No, obviously, it is not. And that is up to all of us. So let’s get on with it, because we are already too late.