Twitter's “Content Council” might just work - BCB #22
Also: Rural resentment is real, COVID is (maybe) less polarizing now
Musk’s Content Moderation Council: Will it Work?
Musk has said he’s going to create a “diverse” content moderation council that will encompass a variety of viewpoints, which presumably means he plans to include both Red and Blue perspectives. Reds have long felt that Twitter has an anti-Red bias, an opinion shared by Musk himself. Interestingly, Facebook also says they consider “political” diversity when selecting people for their Oversight Board.
First of all, does Twitter have a systematic anti-Red bias? There are any number ways to assess this, but the two large scale studies we have suggest there isn’t a bias. Twitter’s own amplification study showed that right-wing politicians in seven countries have a relative advantage in algorithmic exposure (though left and right also employ different social media strategies… it’s complicated.)
A different study looked at Twitter account suspensions and found that Twitter moderation is biased against misinformation, rather than conservative politics – more Red accounts were suspended, but more Red accounts spread misinformation that violated Twitter policies. Critics were quick to ask, who defines misinformation? Perhaps surprisingly, it turns out that balanced crowdsourced panels of Red and Blue participants largely agree with professional fact checker ratings. Other research suggests that the partisan motivations driving people to participate in crowdsourced fact-checking are not causing them to indiscriminately flag counter-partisan content. Instead, they are mostly seeking out misleading posts from across the aisle, and the two sides are “somewhat effectively policing each other.”
This means that politically diverse content moderation bodies might actually be a good idea: there is the potential for increased trust through visible political representation, without sacrificing the quality of decisions.
Today is election day, and the widening divide between urban and rural voters has become an important subject of discussion. As the article puts it: “over the past 25 years, rural areas have increasingly voted Republican while cities have increasingly voted Democratic — a dividing line that has replaced the North/South divide as the nation’s biggest source of political friction”. In addition to the commonly cited demographic reasons for this divide (such as income, race, and age), rural voters care about “geographic inequity.” This is the idea that rural areas receive less than their fair share from the government, are ignored by politicians, and are mocked and derided in popular culture. (Be honest: have you ever called the middle of the country “the flyover states”?)
Several national surveys find that rural beliefs about geographic inequity, or “rural resentment,” are widespread. Meanwhile, Republicans’ struggles in states and districts with substantial urban populations means they don’t have as much influence in the country’s vibrant economic, technological and cultural centers. For example, there is good evidence that politics plays a role in hiring, as we covered previously. This means Reds face additional difficulty in more urbanized Blue cities, perpetuating the cultural and class divide.
In more optimistic news, the USC’s Center for Economic and Social Research measured the partisan perception of COVID-19’s contagiousness and lethality over the entire duration of the pandemic. The Blue and Red dots on the graph above show a steady depolarization of perceptions over the course of the pandemic, especially obvious in the perceived deadliness of COVID-19 chart on the right. This is very good news; reactions to COVID-19 should never have been polarized in the first place, but fell victim to the same pressures that have caused all other issues to align along a single axis.
Correspondingly, there have been proposals for a pandemic amnesty. Forgiving each other for our sins born of political disagreement sounds productive. But peace-making amnesty usually involves confession and repentance as well (see Rwanda and South Africa). Critics of the idea of pandemic amnesty want accountability before forgiveness, for example on the issue of unnecessary school closures. The challenge will be getting to a shared conception of truth; one critic of amnesty mixes reasonable critiques of government pandemic response with wildly unsupported claims, such as the idea that “millions” of deaths resulted from "the suppression of effective treatments.” Most amnesties have been concerned with things like concrete acts of physical violence, rather than highly complex policy responses.
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Quote of the Week
Even now, at the end of 2022, children who are speech-delayed — thanks to being surrounded by masked caregivers during a critical developmental stage— are, in some areas, expected to do speech therapy while wearing a mask, with a masked therapist. We cannot move on, let alone grant amnesty, when children are still being harmed.