Weeding out our less extreme friends - BCB #26
Also: Meta tries citizens' assemblies for platform governance, the New Right develops class consciousness
Do we prefer people who are more like us, or more extreme?
Homophily is the idea that we seek out people similar to ourselves, and has long been blamed for polarization. This new study suggests that we also tend to drop ties with moderates.
The red pointer indicates the subject in the research. After their peers shared their political views on police violence – chosen because it’s such a polarizing issue – they were asked who they wouldn’t want to see again in the next round of the experiment. Generally, people dropped those who were more moderate than them – as opposed to those who were most unlike them, whether more moderate or more extreme, which is what homophily would predict. The researchers call this tendency to prefer more extreme people “acrophily.”
It’s worth noting that the effects found in this study were relatively small; researchers also only asked people about a single issue at a time, whereas a genuine extremist might have fringe views on many issues simultaneously. Other studies on deliberation have shown that when people discuss an issue together there can be either a “risky shift” that comes from group affirmation of more extreme beliefs, or a “cautious shift” where people do in fact become more moderate.
But if acrophily is real, why is it happening? The authors suggest that “more extreme views may be perceived as more prototypical of one’s political group,” noting that Americans tend to think both sides hold more extreme views than they actually do.
Meta experiments with democratic governance on controversial issues
Meta is testing a community forum that will host a diverse set of opinions (6000 people across 32 countries) to help make tough decisions about how the platform should be governed.
The idea of citizens’ assemblies, where a group of citizens is chosen at random to deliberate on a political issue, dates back to ancient Athenian democracies, but the concept has recently seen a resurgence. In 2018 the method was used in Ireland to break the political deadlock around abortion. Meta will attempt a similar method called deliberative polling, where the selected citizens will be in dialogue with competing experts and political leaders. This ensures people make more informed decisions than you’d get from a general vote from the whole population.
This type of democratic governance of online platforms is what technologist Aviv Ovadya calls “platform democracy,” defined as “an on-demand legislature for platform decision-making, based on the citizen assembly model.”
There are many issues where we might not want either governments or CEOs to make decisions – such as which speech should be allowed on a platform. Citizens’ assemblies offer an alternative.
In Depth: The fractious ideology of the New Right
Amidst the intra-Red divide that became apparent in the midterms, this fascinating analysis tries to make sense of the fragmented “New Right.” Trump's destruction of the previous conservative consensus created a vacuum that is slowly being filled by Red intellectuals.
These now include the “national conservatives” or NatCons, who believe that the neutrality of the public sphere bleached out national and religious values. They are hostile towards globalism, international institutions, and immigration, and believe a free market should be connected to national interests. Catholic “Integralists” take it a step further; they are perhaps America’s would-be theocrats, a minority movement that would like to see America become a Catholic state.
Perhaps the most unexpected thing about these emerging Red ideologies movements is their identification with the working class: “Laissez-faire capitalism, speakers said, wasn't the organic force conservatives have long claimed but the product of state intervention; ever-expanding markets hadn't brought universal freedom but wage-slavery and despair.” While these strands of class consciousness are niche and may not become the GOP mainstream anytime soon, it’s always encouraging to see political ideas crossing ideological boundaries in this way.
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Quote of the Week
Trumpist ideology made a meta-argument: that the conservative "fusion" that had defined the Republican Party since the 1960s — uniting religious traditionalists, Cold Warriors and free marketeers in opposition to communism — had ultimately failed.
At an anecdotal level, I've found not just acrophily alone, but:
> Actual-activists often have strong but moderated and empowered views. The people making phone calls or writing postcards to get out the vote see politics as important with a right and wrong but not cartoon good and evil. The people doing the work do *not* go viral among their "team."
> Social media promotes non-activists with disempowered worldviews where cartoon villains are doing things because the villains are bad. You can't really do anything about that — which makes the more extremist views consistently easier to hold.
Extremism on social media is usually easy and requires less personal responsibility. All the good people agree with you and all the bad people are irremediable. Just like the conspiracy theories where lizard people run the government, nothing you do matters, so you don't have to do anything.
I wonder if anti-extremist activists might not create a resource of things you can do:
"Against white supremacy? Here are 10 things you can do."
"Against abortion? Here are 10 things you can do." ... And have all your readers blasting volunteer opportunities at people posting easy-extremism on social media?