Monday, November 25, 2019

Is Social Media a Danger to Democracy?

When Donald Trump won the presidency the American left threw an epic tantrum. They rushed out to proclaim, not merely that Trump was illegitimate, but that a vast right wing propaganda machine had addled American minds, forcing them to vote for Trump.

The radical left, the American intelligentsia, the media elite, the academic elite had assumed, with some justification, that during the Obama presidency they had taken over the American mind, that they owned it. They could not imagine that people could not vote the way that their philosopher kings were telling them to vote.

They were not going to allow it to happen again. They rose up in a vast spasm of anger to rid the national debate of any thought that they did not approve. They wanted to shut down the voices of the right, often by slander and defamation. And they would take over the great news purveyors, like Facebook, Twitter and Google… the better to ensure that only left thinking news sources would appear in searches. Didn’t that model of human ineptitude, Sen. Kamala Harris, propose that Twitter silence the president of the United States?

And yet, you might have noticed that the master minds who control social media do not belong to the vast right wing conspiracy. They are serious leftists. Little import that. Philosopher kings have denounced them as monopoly capitalists who must be controlled by leftist government bureaucrats, lest another Donald Trump win another election.

The effort to shut down the marketplace of ideas, lest diversity of thought comes to infect the American mind, is of a piece with the new rage against capitalism. You would have thought that people who value empirical results would have accepted that free enterprise is the best economic policy. Apparently not. They keep telling us that capitalism produces inequality—God forbid—and thus needs to be controlled by the government.

On the other side of the debate, we also note that the American economy has long since been hobbled by a surfeit of bureaucrats, regulators, lawyers, environmentalists, diversity activists and assorted thought police. Add to that the influence of central bankers, who will do anything to prop up the financial system and drive us into more debt than we will ever be able to pay off, and you see a system that is not entirely free.

Anyway, when nitwit celebrities weigh in on the issue, we are unfortunately obliged to take notice. Even Ross Douthat takes the words of Sasha Baron Cohen seriously enough to put them in a New York Times column. As you know, SBC invented the character of Borat, a character whose goal in life was to humiliate whomever he could.

Now SBC is speaking in his own words, sounding the tocsin of alarm over the expanding influence of social media monopolies. He condemns:

 “a handful of internet companies” for building the “greatest propaganda machine in history” and driving the rise of authoritarianism, demagoguery and bigotry.

SBC is sorely disturbed to see that not everyone has descended to his level of stupid. So, he denounces them all as bigots and wants to regulate the internet companies for propagating leftist propaganda. Did you notice that Iran has recently fulfilled SBC’s wet dream, shutting down the internet. He can now start a new movement, fascists against fascism...

But, Douthat sagely notices, those who vote for populist candidates, who dare to defy the conventional wisdom laid down by idiot celebrities, rarely get their news from the internet:

… Twitter also surfaced a recent study from academics in France, Canada and the United States, which examined the relationship between social-media echo chambers and support for populism in France, Britain and the United States. The authors found that there was either no relationship or a negative one: Populist voters were somewhat more likely to hang out with people of a similar ethnicity or social class offline, but on the internet they were no more likely than other voters to inhabit an echo chamber. And social media use was a strong predictor of opposition to the campaign of Donald Trump.

People who used more social media were more, not less, likely to oppose Donald Trump. Does this mean that the internet is a left wing propaganda mill, taking control over the gullible minds of coastal pseudo intellectuals? A sobering thought that.

Leftists who denounce right wing propaganda are simply projecting their own lazy intellectual habits. They love online forums because they can feel like they belong to the more intellectual class… the one that is inhabited by idiot celebrities like SBC.

This poses two problems for leftists. For one, they ignore the real world reasons that people have for voting right. Second, they form the false impression that their views are the only views.

Douthat explains:

First, you end up downgrading the obvious real-world forces driving populism’s appeal, persuading yourself that an algorithmic tweak or better fact-checking will deal with deep trends — economic stagnation, social crisis — that would exist with or without fake news.

Second, you lose sight of the ways in which your own information bubble is a potential radicalizing force — including for people observing it from outside, for whom it makes political liberalism seem like an airless world filled with hyper-educated ideologues. Indeed, on the evidence of a Democratic primary that seems made for the social-media bubble, it’s liberalism that’s being warped by online feedback loops and radicalization cascades.

1 comment:

n.n said...

Social media platforms (e.g. Alphabet/Google) are steering (e.g. bias, prejudice, bigotry) agents.

Liberalism is, in principle, divergent (e.g. generational). Progressivisism is monotonic [unqualified] change. Conservativism is moderating.