A global public sphere of compassion? #JeSuisCharlie and #JeNeSuisPasCharlie on Twitter and their language boundaries





global public sphere, Twitter, Charlie Hebdo, web crawling, echo chamber


Within the last decade, hashtag- based publics and various aspects of the discussions produced by them have created a rapidly growing field of interdisciplinary research linking public opinion and public sphere studies to social network analysis. Despite this growth, there is still scarce evidence that ‘Habermas is on Twitter’, due to the affective and non-dialogue nature of expression in social networks, seemingly low capacity of ad hoc discussions to create ‘opinion crossroads’, and language boundaries that prevent, i.a., cross-cultural participation of users in a given discussion and, thus, do not let the global public sphere develop. Having this in mind, we explore the spatial dimension of two affective hashtag-based publics with mutually exclusive value-loaded positions — #JeSuisCharlie and #JeNeSuisPasCharlie. We look at language distribution within the tweet collections and the expansion of the hashtagged discussion to the languages other than French.To trace the discussion outbursts, we use automated web crawling, manual coding of tweet collections, and web graph reconstruction and visual analysis. Our results suggest that, despite the differences in the volume of expression, the language structure of both hashtags was quite similar and formed echo chambers on the level of a hashtag as well as on sub-levels. Also, we see that bilingual but not multilingual users bridge the sub-level echo chambers.We argue that global compassion publics not only lift up the idea of echo chambers to a new level (since ‘national’ language-based echo chambers clearly show up on the discussion graphs) but also revive the concept of spiral of silence.