Ever since the Conservatives have been waging cultural wars in Canada, they have complained that the media and information landscape on which they are fighting these battles is biased against them. This is primarily self-serving fiction, as the editorial boards of newspapers across our country consistently, and often overwhelmingly, support the Conservative Party of the day.
But a pair of recent reports on the biases inherent in our social media networks should prompt the rest of us to sit down and take note.
Facebook’s inherent kindness to conservative causes is no secret to anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential campaign. Like Politics reported last September, “The most engaged Facebook posts in the US most of the time – measured by likes, comments, shares and reactions – come from conservative voices outside of mainstream media.”
An anonymous Facebook official suggested it was because “right-wing populism is always more engaging.” But the truth, as former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen recently testified in a U.S. Congressional hearing, is that the company’s algorithm is biased in favor of content that fuels the flames of the internet. hatred and anger. “I am deeply concerned that they have made a product that can take people away from their real communities and isolate them in these rabbit holes and filter bubbles,” she said.
Twitter, it seems, isn’t much better on that front. According to a recent internal study of what content works best on the platform, curators also have a built-in advantage. “In six out of seven countries, tweets posted by elected politicians on the political right are algorithmically amplified more than the political left,” Twitter’s Rumman Chowdhury told the BBC. . “
It also doesn’t seem to have anything to do with who was in power at the time. “For example,” the study notes, “in the UK, amplification favors the ruling Conservatives, while in Canada, opposition from the Conservative Party of Canada is more strongly amplified.” And where is this amplification effect most visible? Here in Canada, where Conservative voices are amplified nearly four times (167 to 43%) than those of the Liberals.
The mainstream media have always favored the conservative right. Today, Facebook and Twitter continue this tradition. # extremism #mediabias @maxfawcett writes for @natobserver
If you want to understand why this matters and the impact it can have on democracy, look no further than the recent governorate election in Virginia. In a state Joe Biden liked a lot in 2020, the Democratic nominee was just beaten by Republican Glenn Youngkin, who spent much of the campaign talking about something not even taught in government. State schools: Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT examines how racism is embedded in everything from criminal justice and banking systems to labor and housing markets, but Republicans successfully twisted it as an attack on whites – and once used it more to stir up the embers of the white grievance policy that helped elect Donald Trump.
Biden’s growing unpopularity, as well as the general incompetence of Democrats in Congress, clearly contributed here. But so was the constant regime of bullshit that the voters of Virginia fed on the distorted theory. As former Obama administration member and Crooked Media co-founder Dan Pfeiffer wrote: “There isn’t a single student learning CRT in the world, let alone in Virginia. Yet Youngkin managed to make a very real bogus issue for voters in Virginia. ”
He was able to do this through the combination of a right-wing media ecosystem that produces disinformation and a pair of hugely influential social media platforms that continue to amplify it. “The right wing is able to create an alternate reality and then come up with solutions to bogus problems that people think are Democrats’ fault,” Pfieffer wrote. “The CRT probably played a smaller role than many experts suggest, but the fact that Youngkin may have made it a problem should be a giant warning sign of what is to come in 2022.”
No more conflicts to come
It should also be a warning sign for progressives in Canada. After all, while the Conservatives here have failed to recreate the kind of right-wing media ecosystem that thrives in the United States, it is not for lack of trying. Just because our nation’s right-wing proxies aren’t as adept at creating an alternative media universe as their American peers doesn’t mean they can’t improve – or they don’t when they are. we speak.
The implications here also go far beyond the realm of partisan politics. From our collective response to climate change to our attitudes towards vaccinations and other public health measures, these conversations are happening more than ever on Twitter and Facebook. If we can’t trust them to elevate fact above fiction, we risk seeing the informative water we all drink poisoned by bad faith actors. And if the Conservatives can invent whole grievances, like they did with the CRT, and use social media to arm them against their political enemies, then we are heading into a dark new age.
It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can adjust their algorithms to elevate good information to bad, truth to lies, and expertise to conspiracies. But so far, monetary incentives don’t seem to be leading them in that direction. If governments do not intervene and act quickly, they could face much more serious problems in the future.