Social media and the referendum: the twilight zone is missing


“Yes” caught up in the last few hours before the vote, but a large majority of social media users were supporters of “No”. That is what many researches driven by specialized companies have found out, with relentless certainty: looking at the mere number of comments, the “No” movement, even before that in the polls, would be the winner online, on the social media.

Social media were the stars of the Referendum campaign. Until the last, a bit funny, slip-up by the pop singer Piero Pelù about copy-pencils, in the year of “post truth” and pollsters epic fails at Brexit and at the American Presidential Elections, social media seemed to be the most valuable thermometer in the hot Italian debate.

This is not the best place to talk about bot and how they can influence conversations’ trending topics online, neither analyze the campaign’s themes in detail, neither spend time in long debates about the role of “fake news” on vote: the most shared content about Referendum is a fake.

From the ways in which the analysis are conduced and from the interpretations of the results achieved by “Yes” and “No” movements, the evidence is the lack of a “grey zone”: fortunately, these moderate positions about the Referendum themes exist outside the social media. In this “grey zone” you can find the undecided electors, people who don’t express their preference, are not directly involved in the campaign or don’t have means to understand.

Actually, there are some neutral spaces for debates on the social network, but they are always (declared or sneaky) expression of a defined political idea (the page of a “No” Committee, a group of “Yes” supporters”…). And it’s not all. The success of a content on social media is based on its ability to generate an immediate and viral reaction, strictly linked with the sentiment (“like”, “share”) of the message addressee.  
From this matter of fact, social media now seem to be still immature media compared to the needs of an advanced society: where are the buttons “I’m interested”, “I would like to better clarify these aspects”, “I shall discuss it”, “I’m not ready”, “It’s not likely”? There aren’t metrics to analyze how people form their opinions on an issue: metrics can show only their final and proud crystallization.
Who wants to oppose at the Referendum can emotionally connote his positions through slogans (“defend our Constitution”, “send home all the politicians”). On the other hand, the proactive side has the task to explain, motivate, deny, analyze, compare and listen to opposite opinions: these activities rarely go viral on social media.  

If the aim of the promoters of the Referendum campaign, today just like yesterday, is to explain and motivate different choices, what are the available options for complex messages to reach the widest public possible, regardless of instant emotions? To analyze the reasons of the gap between “Yes” and “No” results, It can be useful to start from this question, and then rethink the role of social media in the contemporary democratic processes.