SOCIAL media is "damaging" political discourse, Nicola Sturgeon warned at her last public appearance in London as Scotland’s First Minister.

The outgoing SNP leader kicked off her final week at the head of the Scottish Government with an interview on ITV’s Loose Women, before giving a half-hour-long keynote speech to the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) reflecting on her time in office.

The FM last visited the RSA in late 2018, halfway through her term and midway through the Brexit process, and focused her speech on Monday afternoon on the state of political discourse in Scotland, the UK, and across the world.

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Sturgeon told the audience at RSA House in central London that she believed the influence of social media websites, like Facebook and Twitter, has undermined the ability of countries to “address big issues of substance that will shape futures”.

She pointed to the discussion around independence, which many have said is too “divisive”, and said there must be a way to resolve issues with “respect”.

The FM also discussed two policy areas she has championed - inequality and climate change - and the impact social media discourse has had on tackling those interlinked problems.

Noting the ongoing SNP leadership contest, which the FM admitted was “fractious”, Sturgeon said it was a job made “harder” by the fact that the party is not in opposition while going through such a momentous change.

Sturgeon told the RSA: “We need to take care not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The National: Social media harms are 'outweighing' the benefits, the FM saidSocial media harms are 'outweighing' the benefits, the FM said (Image: PA)

“And all of that calls for a balanced and nuanced debate, and yet the nature of modern media, social media in particular, can make that more difficult than it should be.”

The FM said that social media had “many benefits” from democratising political discourse to bringing people together.

However, she added: “But right now it feels that the damage social media is doing globally to public discourse and to democracies is outweighing the benefits of it.”

Sturgeon pointed to comments made by former UK prime minister Tony Blair that social media is a “plague in politics”, and said while she doesn’t often agree with him, he had a point on that topic.

The FM added: “While I don't agree that this is an inevitability, I do think it is the reality right now.

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“It is distorting debate.

“The sheer pace of rolling news encourages us to speak first and think later.

“Minor dramas become crises and then catastrophes in what can often feel like nanoseconds.

“Algorithms create echo chambers, they obliterate nuance and force us into binary positions, with polarised, sometimes, especially the most complex of issues, the distinction between objective facts and subjective opinion has all but disappeared.

“Absolutely everything is contested, which makes finding common ground much much harder, and all of this is undermining rational decision making.”

The National: The FM said the impact of social media will influence the quality of political discourseThe FM said the impact of social media will influence the quality of political discourse (Image: PA)

The FM said that decision-makers are now under “enormous pressure” to make commitments at “breakneck speed” with very little time to weigh up “complexities or uncertainties”.

“The amplification effect of social media too often leads politicians to think that quite extreme positions are the view of the majority when they are most definitely not,” Sturgeon added.

“And then of course, there is the abuse that is huddled at anyone who puts their head above the parapet.”

Social media is creating a “harsher and more hostile” environment for women and minorities than at “any time in my political career”, the FM told the audience.

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Social media is creating an environment “harsher and more hostile", particularly for women and those from minority communities, "than at any time in my political career”, Sturgeon said.

“It gives racism, misogyny, sexism, bigotry, generally, none of these new phenomena by any means, a platform and a vehicle.” she added.

“And if we're not careful, it will drive the kind of people we desperately need to see more of in politics and public life, even further away.”

The FM said she was not “naive” about social media and that it wouldn’t simply disappear, but if it continues to dominate and “misshape” political debate it will “destroy our ability to address the massive era-defining issues that the world currently faces”.

She pointed to the ongoing debate over Scottish independence, which some quarters argue should be excluded from discussion because it is “too divisive”.

“We must find ways of debating and resolving these issues with respect, reason, civility, and good faith,” Sturgeon added.

In her final public speech in the top Scottish Government job, the FM said she believed this issue is one of the “most pressing” facing democracies.

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She explained: “Unless we improve the quality of our debate, discourse, and decision making, and underpin it with reason and a degree of social cohesion, we will be increasingly incapable of finding the solutions to the massive economic, social, environmental challenges we face and we will certainly not be able to do so with anything like the consensus needed for implementing some of these solutions.”

We previously told how Sturgeon told the Loose Women panel that the SNP had “mishandled” the membership numbers row but called for “perspective”.