Friday, December 14, 2018

Two big reports show how many people self-radicalize on social media, esp. toward the alt-right by reinforcing algorithms

VOX-Pol (no connection to Vox in the US), in Europe, recently published a large booklet report as a PDF, by J. M. Berger, “The Alt-Right Twitter Consensus: Defining and Describing the Audience for Alt-Right Content on Twitter”, link here.

A shorter but more explosive report comes from Bellingcat and Robert Evans. It is titled “From Memes to Infowars: How 75 Fascist Activists Were ‘Red-Pilled.”.

The term “red-pilling”, from the Matrix movies, means converting someone from a moderate ideology to a much more extreme and combative one, usually emphasizing loyalty to the group or tribe.
Vox (in the US) analyzes these reports in a piece by Zach Beauchamp, suggesting that YouTube has become “infested” as a honeypot for the alt-right.  It's interesting, though, that the Bellingcat report read literally doesn't point to YouTube (75 cases) but the Vox piece does, perhaps jumping to conclusions. 
Before going to far, it’s good to give the Wikipedia reference for “alt-right”, which shows the wide variations in the meaning of the term. But generally many of these forms are quite extreme and emphasize extreme tribalism, such as “national anarchists”. They are generally anti-intellectual and anti-individualistic, and want “socialism” within a patriarchal tribal structure.  They see this as a way to rectify individual inequality of ability

The Vox article shows how the algorithms, in a manner similar to Facebook, drive repeated users into echo chambers.  More moderate users will never be aware of the problem, as they will generally not even see the content.

However, the article shows that populations are susceptible to propaganda, and that less cognitively intact people can be driven into radical areas and convinced to join radical movements.  Intellectually sound people will not even notice this is going on.
Practically all the speech involved is protected under the First Amendment and downstream liability largely protected by Section 230.  This is quickly shaping up as an enormous public policy problem.
Oddly, the danger of promoting radicalization may be greater from users who don’t sell anything or raise money for causes in a conventional way.  Independent journalist Tim Pool has been especially skeptical of reports like this from larger media, who are challenged by low-cost competition from independent media. 

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