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Wall Street Journal Cites Constella’s Report on Online Polarization and Digital Risk

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The digital public sphere has created an online platform for debate that often devolves into a hostile environment, and the new rules of the public square have engendered reputational and cybersecurity-related risks for individuals and organizations, with threats constantly emerging from the public digital conversation. This week, the Wall Street Journal cited Constella’s in-depth research into these risks. 

Constella’s new report zeros in on Spain to analyze how insults, threats, and hostile language contribute to a degradation of the public digital conversation. The analysis sets out to measure the presence and evolution of polarization in the debate with a focus on the decay of discourse—including the prevalence of insults, threats, derogatory language, and hate speech—in the debate and contributing to polarization in the conversation. Through this research, Constella’s team adds to the body of knowledge around the role and digital influence of politicians, civil society, and social and digital media platforms in shaping the online public debate in Spain.

Constella’s past research on polarization in the Spanish digital public conversation was referenced in a 2019 piece by Anne Applebaum for the Washington Post in which the Pulitzer Prize Winner assesses the political and technological conditions that enabled populist parties to gain tremendous ground across Europe and Spain at rapid velocity after 2018. This type of analysis also characterizes Anne Applebaum’s 2020 book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, in which she discusses the democratic decline and the social, political, and technological conditions that have accompanied the rise of authoritarianism and anti-democratic tendencies in liberal western democracies.

Expanding upon the arguments put forth by Applebaum regarding the trends and behaviors that threaten undermining democratic discourse and liberal democracy itself, Constella’s team set out to conduct a retroactive analysis to quantify the decay of the public digital conversation in Spain between 2017 and 2018. This period is significant to recent Spanish political history, and its repercussions are still notable in the socio-political discourse today.

Key Findings include

  • Out of 37.7M publications analyzed, 11.4% included insults or some form of derogatory language. These types of insults and language continuously increased from 9.7% in the first month analyzed to 13.9% in the last month, reaching a 43% increase over 15 months.

Out of nearly 40M results captured and analyzed, over 4M included insults, threats, or hostile language, amounting to more than 1 in every 10 comments.


  • Mainstream and alternative media are already flooded with insults and derogatory threats by late 2017.


  • Initially, pages across mainstream and alternative media, as well as political parties, saw the largest penetration of insults. Some pages were also connected with politicians. In this period, insults are largely driven by events related to the Catalan secessionist movement, although hostile speech and insults penetrate the debate from across the political and ideological spectrum.


  • Over 15 months, insults and degradation of the public debate increased in proportion to the overall public debate across all pages, covering a wide swath of the political spectrum and media landscape. 

Insults and threats present in the public digital conversation gradually increase between 2017 and 2018, constituting a 43% increase in 15 months.


  • Political polarization was primarily concentrated on pages related to the extreme right, extreme left, and Catalan separatist movements drove increasing proportions of insults and threats, and new, politically-driven pages emerged alongside the change in the overall tone of the conversation.


Download Constella’s detailed report here for the full analysis. 


Why Constella Intelligence is committed to the integrity of the digital sphere

As a leader in Digital Risk Protection, Constella Intelligence develops technology and delivers solutions for the anticipation, early identification, and mitigation of risks to organizations, brands, their executives, and key employees. Within this context, the deterioration of the public digital conversation contributes to an environment in which targeted reputational and cybersecurity-related threats to organizations and executives increase significantly. As such, our interest in the transparency and integrity of the public digital debate is paramount.

“Within this context, the deterioration of the public digital conversation contributes to an environment in which targeted reputational and cybersecurity-related threats to organizations and executives increase significantly.”

Constella Intelligence offers industry-best products to rapidly identify threats targeting high-profile individuals to mitigate risks before any damage can occur. Constella understands the incentives that drive the exploitation of vulnerabilities and combines superior threat intelligence for confident decision-making with unparalleled global control and proactive real-time response to anticipate and defeat digital risk. Constella is a trusted partner to some of the world’s largest organizations and institutions, working to protect executives, leadership, and key employees from digital risk and emerging cyber vulnerabilities.

To learn more, download Constella’s detailed report here for the full analysis. Reach out to our team to get a free Risk Exposure Assessment and learn how we help safeguard organization and their key employees against digital risk.