How are left-wing and right-wing blogs different?

by on April 8, 2012 at 4:03 am in Political Science, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

Via Kevin Lewis, here is Aaron Shaw and Yochai Benkler:

American Behavioral Scientist, April 2012, Pages 459-487

Abstract:
In this article, the authors compare the practices of discursive production among top U.S. political blogs on the left and right during summer 2008. An examination of the top 155 political blogs reveals significant cross-ideological variations along several dimensions. Notably, the authors find evidence of an association between ideological affiliation and the technologies, institutions, and practices of participation. Blogs on the left adopt different, and more participatory, technical platforms, comprise significantly fewer sole-authored sites, include user blogs, maintain more fluid boundaries between secondary and primary content, include longer narrative and discussion posts, and (among the top half of the blogs in the sample) more often use blogs as platforms for mobilization. The findings suggest that the attenuation of the news producer-consumer dichotomy is more pronounced on the left wing of the political blogosphere than on the right. The practices of the left are more consistent with the prediction that the networked public sphere offers new pathways for discursive participation by a wider array of individuals, whereas the practices of the right suggest that a small group of elites may retain more exclusive agenda-setting authority online. The cross-ideological divergence in the findings illustrates that the Internet can be adopted equally to undermine or to replicate the traditional distinction between the production and consumption of political information. The authors conclude that these findings have significant implications for the study of prosumption and for the mechanisms by which the networked public sphere may or may not alter democratic participation relative to the mass mediated public sphere.

Steve Sailer April 8, 2012 at 5:14 am

This stuff changes pretty rapidly depending upon which side has the momentum. The study is of 2008, when Obamamania was rampant on the left. (That seems pretty funny four years later, but a lot of people were seriously worked up over Obama in 2008). In contrast, there was no McCainmania.

dan1111 April 8, 2012 at 5:48 am

I agree. This is particularly true when they talk about the left issuing more calls for donations and action. Why use what is ancient data in this field?

Also, one could think of many reasons for the differences, other than a bias toward authority on the right. Demographics, for example. Suppose that leftist bloggers are younger. They would be more likely to know how to set up blogs with advanced participatory features.

This is part of a whole class of political studies:
1-Measure a real difference between liberals and conservatives.
2-Apply an ideological lens in the absence of real data about the cause.
3-Come to a conclusion that reinforces your own biases.

Scott from Ohio April 8, 2012 at 5:49 am

Agreed. It’d be interesting to see the same kind of analysis done for 2010 to see how much the results change.

Bill April 8, 2012 at 10:11 am

This whole classification of left or right is stupid.

Skip Intro April 8, 2012 at 11:30 am

What makes you say that?

Bill April 8, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Undefined terms lead to sloppy thinking.

Categories are used to lead you like a red cape.

Charge ahead.

Was Nixon’s healthcare mandate rightwing?

msgkings April 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm

+1

Most folks are center with leanings in either ‘direction’ depending on the issue. Nothing is gained from rigid classifications and ginned up ‘my team vs your team’ conflict.

Tom April 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Agreed.

Dan1111 April 9, 2012 at 3:39 am

But there really are two major camps or philosophical systems in American politics. Categories are necessarily simplifications, but they are useful. A world without labels would be incomprehensible. Human nature, not labels, causes sloppy thinking and tribalism.

mulp April 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm

If there are two major camps defined by left and right, then on the left is the liberal democratic camp and on the right is the divine right of power camp, on the left is populist and on the right authoritarian, and that divide from the French two centuries ago is the divide used by the authors.

But if the left-right divide of populism vs authoritarianism is axiomatic, then clearly the authors must find that in the blogs divided left from right.

TallDave April 9, 2012 at 4:36 pm

I think you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find any major U.S. bloggers arguing for the divine right of kings. Populism vs. authoritarianism doesn’t work either; too often today popular position on an issue is also authoritarian, and both parties can hew toward either on different issues.

In America today, the major delineation is that the left sees a larger role for gov’t and the right a smaller. But the fault lines can shift pretty rapidly; it was only a few years ago Presidential overreach was a major concern on the left and of little concern to the right.

Joe April 8, 2012 at 5:19 am

They manage to mention Karl Marx in the second sentence, so nothing to see here, folks. Just mve along.

GiT April 8, 2012 at 5:49 am

How silly.

Ed April 8, 2012 at 9:32 am

I think Marx would have had a pretty awesome blog if the technology had been in existence then.

Jayson Virissimo April 8, 2012 at 11:50 am

Marx’s blog would have been a must-read; Bastiat as well.

JonF311 April 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm

If Marx blogged in the same heavy didactic Germannic style he wrote, a Marx blog would have been the soporfic of the masses.

GiT April 8, 2012 at 7:58 pm

“Heavy didactic Germannic (sic) style”?

“Soporific of the masses”?

For this thought experiment, perhaps one should look at the style of his writings for the New York Daily Tribune:

“Now what shall England do with Spain? Repeat her protests, multiply her dispatches, renew her negotiations? Lord Malmesbury himself states that they could cover all the waters from the Spanish coast to Cuba with the documents vainly exchanged between the two Governments. Or shall England enforce her claims, sanctioned by so many treaties? Here it is that the shoe pinches. ”

Or if his journalistic style is too ‘soporific and didactic,’ one could go with the polemical tracts:

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

Jason (the commenter) April 8, 2012 at 5:53 am

And then the Tea Party happened.

The Original D April 8, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Exactly. The activities might not break down by left vs. right so much as in-power and out-.

M April 8, 2012 at 6:00 am

My comments would be:

- It may be that discussion groups and forums are more in use for participatory discussion amongst the Right Wing.
- Right Wing persons may start blogs more frequently.
- Right Wing blogs may not be by established media types so often, when popular.

Those would seem at least as important factors to consider when considering whether “the attenuation of the news producer-consumer dichotomy is more pronounced on the left wing of the political blogosphere than on the right.”

Also the strength of the blog format, over a forum, is that it has a strong focus set by a single author (or group of authors) – a blog is essentially nothing more than a forum with a single (or constrained set of) permitted initial poster(s) and a strict date order in post priority (no bumping). The strengths of blogs over this format are exactly that they have a “more exclusive agenda-setting authority”, where forums really do have a completely collapsed “traditional distinction between the production and consumption of political information”. So I’d be wary to knee jerk like this is a bad thing.

Andrew' April 8, 2012 at 6:00 am

My model would be even simpler.

“and (among the top half of the blogs in the sample) more often use blogs as platforms for mobilization.”

The entire purpose of the leftosphere is “Hey guys, here’s what we all should do” and the purpose of the Rightosphere is “Hey guys, this is what those guys are trying to do to us.”

PK April 8, 2012 at 6:27 am

Very good point. The Left’s attitude is generally expansionist (especially when it comes to public finance), while the Right usually just defends itself. The Right is the taxpayer, the Left is tax spender.

There’s different attitude to austerity. While the Left understands “austerity” almost uniformly as hiking tax rates, the Right prefers expenditure cuts.

MD April 8, 2012 at 2:36 pm

How does that work for “cultural” issues, like abortion? I think there are many issues where this kind of easy dichotomy breaks down.

mulp April 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Well, on social issues, the Right organizes to defend themselves against the Left:

“We must fight the authoritarian Left who is forcing individuals on the Right to make moral decisions and take individual responsibility for having an abortion, or having sex, or accepting being gay. We need to get the Left off our backs and have government tell us “No” on abortion, “No” on having sex, “No” on being gay, so we can be free of burden of morality.”

Tom April 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Or Rightosphere is “Hey guys, this is what those guys are trying to make us do.”

dearieme April 8, 2012 at 6:32 am

I stopped reading two economics blogs (one right, one left) because of the censorship of comments.
The leftie one was, of course, Broad de Large’s.

Jayson Virissimo April 8, 2012 at 8:20 am

Yeah, I stopped reading Brad for the same reason.

Ed April 8, 2012 at 9:35 am

I agree that the censorship on that site was pretty heavy handed, but is it fair to characterize it as “left” instead of “centrist”?

Willitts April 8, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Yeah, more than fair. A few token crumbs of grudging tolerance doesn’t erase the continuous stream of shrill vitriol.

Tom April 8, 2012 at 9:23 pm

How about ‘quite left’?

TallDave April 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm

“If you are still playing for Team Republican and want to have any honor whatsoever, you need to leave the Republican Party now, apologize to America, and work to remove it from our political system.”

Yep, sounds pretty centrist to me.

DW April 8, 2012 at 9:59 am

What’s the point of commenting on BdL’s blog?

Or on any strongly ‘wing’ (right or left) affiliated blog? Remember xkcd: http://xkcd.com/386/

Jamie April 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Do you read Instapundit?

Michael Heller April 8, 2012 at 8:29 am

If I’m a utopian blogger preparing a post on the positive function of utopia I might be reading ‘Utopia and the Ideal Society’ by historian J. C. Davis who says:
“Like any other writer, the utopian must begin by visualizing his audience. It is his first *fiction*. To visualize and project a reconstructed society he must visualize an audience with shared values”.
Same for right and left blogger utopias because all utopias are totalitarian?

Ted Craig April 8, 2012 at 8:31 am

Nothing to do with the findings, but in the same WSJ section that reviewed Tyler’s book was an article titled “Even Professors Can Write Well.” I suggest the authors of this paper give it a read.

CdnExpat April 8, 2012 at 11:46 am

Hear, hear!! Totally filled with unnecessary jargon.

Lorenzo from Oz April 8, 2012 at 8:36 am

Isn’t this mostly just the difference between collectivist and individualist mentalities?

Bill April 8, 2012 at 9:14 am

I thought instead they should do frequency of word count between the two types of blogs (assuming you can classify blogs as left or right).

All that right wing and Libertarian websites, for example, would appear to talk about, based on their wordcounts, would be “socialism.”

Ergo, you must have a lot of socialists on this site!

JWatts April 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Good point. And what do Left websites appear to talk about? “Facists” & “Racists”. So by your logic,….

JWatts April 8, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Correction: “Fascists”

Bill April 9, 2012 at 8:03 am

If people resort to words like fascists or socialists, they are asking you to stop thinking for yourself.

TallDave April 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm

The funny thing about that dichotomy is that millions of people proudly describe themselves as “socialist” (even numerous major political parties!) but virtually no one self-describes as fascist or racist — or, interestingly, “social Darwinist,” as Obama called Paul Ryan (I guess this means our President is a social creationist!).

sammler April 8, 2012 at 9:51 am

Part of the reason, which does not seem to have been made explicit in the study, is that “bulk media” news services independent of the internet are persistently liberal on average. So there is no need for left-wing news aggregation sites to arise: the established media are already performing that role.

Bill April 8, 2012 at 10:10 am

Is that really so, or is that the belief or indoctrination from your news sources?

Yancey Ward April 8, 2012 at 11:16 am

That is just propaganda you read on that right wing rag The New York Times.

DK April 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm

So there is no need for left-wing news aggregation sites to arise

That’s just patently wrong. Rule #1 of the effective propaganda: the more, the merrier. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of news aggregators is obviously left-biased.

Zach April 8, 2012 at 10:27 am

The findings suggest that the attenuation of the news producer-consumer dichotomy is more pronounced on the left wing of the political blogosphere than on the right. The practices of the left are more consistent with the prediction that the networked public sphere offers new pathways for discursive participation by a wider array of individuals, whereas the practices of the right suggest that a small group of elites may retain more exclusive agenda-setting authority online.

That’s an odd take on things, and the interpretation certainly isn’t forced by the data.

I believe the largest blogs on the left and right, respectively, are Daily Kos and Instapundit (I haven’t checked recently, so I may be off here). Glen Reynolds is a moderately successful law professor who (seemingly) blogs primarily to give himself a platform. Kos is a professional blogger whose income/influence/importance in the world is about 90% correlated with the number of pageviews his site gets. They have different goals, and use different methods.

Blogs on the left adopt different, and more participatory, technical platforms, comprise significantly fewer sole-authored sites, include user blogs, maintain more fluid boundaries between secondary and primary content, include longer narrative and discussion posts, and (among the top half of the blogs in the sample) more often use blogs as platforms for mobilization.

All of these — user blogs, discussion threads, open threads, polls, political crusades — are techniques for maximizing the number of pageviews and keeping the reader on one site as long as possible, while minimizing the amount of content that the main author has to generate. All things being equal, you would expect professional bloggers to use them heavily as a way to generate cheap content, while platform bloggers would avoid them as a dilution of their unique voice and message.

Bill April 8, 2012 at 10:52 am

Might the distinction be, instead, a website that aggregates, restates and links, and one that produces its own content?

Zach April 8, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Sure. My point is that in both cases, there are dozens of third parties who are actually providing the content that people read. Putting them all one one blog or merely linking to them externally is a question of organizational structure and goals, not some fundamental property of the discourse. You can easily find many examples of professional and platform bloggers on either side of the political spectrum.

David April 8, 2012 at 11:10 am

I think a lot of this reflects the intellectual history of the left-wing blog movement. Basically all the big blogs like Daily Kos, OpenLeft and several others are children spawned from MyDD, where “DD” stands for Direct Democracy. And they were serious about this, as are their readers. They openly dream that the decision-making structure of political leadership would cede power to the collected commentators of Daily Kos. It would be an authority-less government where the most liked DKos comments would essentially become ratified bills. Though I’m very much a member of the political left, I’ve become deeply disillusioned with this sort of orthodoxy. It’s basically a study in echo chamber selection effects and confirmation bias, where what everyone wants to hear is judged to be the only thing that’s deemed as worth saying. All this has the cumulative effect that despite its participatory structure, the Daily Kos “community orthodoxy” can become just as closed-minded, dogmatic and unhinged from reality as any individual personality that runs his own opinion blog. This sort of thing will happen whenever there’s only one “effective” way for the participators to participate, namely, to agree with the other “effective” participators.

Dredd April 8, 2012 at 1:42 pm

What David said.

It is not only blogs that are molded like that by group-think. Our educational institutions and orthodox science have either the same or very similar problems. It is a drag on dynamic progress, and is probably related to political ideology too.

DK April 8, 2012 at 5:20 pm

That’s all just more of the leftist propaganda. Left good, right bad – we all heard that already. But you’ll never hear about left practicing enormously more censorship on its blogs (e.g., deleting “offensive” and “insensitive” comments; something even this blog engages in occasionally).

Coray April 9, 2012 at 7:57 am

“the medium is the message”

Anthony April 9, 2012 at 11:34 am

Was there any exploration of how much money the various bloggers and site owners made from blogging activity? I suspect that this will have some impact on commenting and community building practices – it’s easier to take the time to moderate comments or build a community if you don’t have to work 8 hours a day at something else.

Most of the conservative and libertarian blogs are written by people with day jobs, while HuffPo and DailyKos at least, are money-making ventures for the site organizers, if not all the content contributors. However, I’d expect some of the behavioral similarities to cut across ideological lines.

mulp April 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm

By the way, this abstract is for the refereed published version of the work reported in 2010 at
http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2010/Tale_Two_Blogospheres_Discursive_Practices_Left_Right

They reference work done in 2005, so one can either argue its really out of date, or argue the result suggest consistency over time. On the webpage above, they link to the appendix which describes how they selected websites, and then their classification into center, left, right. Reading the lists, I find my self questioning their classification, or my sense of reality.

I would love to know who is off base, the researchers and their classifiers, or me…

Example centrist sites:
http://www.politicalwire.com
http://www.themoderatevoice.com
http://www.realclearpolitics.com
http://www.balloon-juice.com
http://www.theagitator.com
http://www.warandpiece.com
http://www.msnbc.msn.com
http://www.marginalrevolution.com
:
total of 23

Example left:
http://www.mydd.com
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com
http://www.crooksandliars.com
http://www.wonkette.com
http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com
http://www.dailykos.com
http://www.thinkprogress.org
http://www.atrios.blogspot.com
:
total of 65

Example right:
http://www.instapundit.com
http://www.powerlineblog.com
http://www.michellemalkin.com
http://www.ace.mu.nu
http://www.deanesmay.com
http://www.stoptheaclu.com
http://www.wizbangblog.com
http://www.littlegreenfootballs.com
http://www.newsbusters.org
http://www.outsidethebeltway.com
http://www.imao.us
http://www.rightwingnews.com
http://www.hotair.com
http://www.blogsforvictory.com
:
total of 65

Given the listing of MR as “center” (I agree), these comments are interesting, I think:

“Despite their underrepresentation in our sample, center blogs varied from both the right and
left along a number of the dimensions included in our instrument and we can draw some
tentative conclusions based on our results. A pattern emerged suggesting the coexistence of
characteristics we identified as predominant on the right and left. Among the center blogs,
secondary content and collaboration appear to play a relatively minor role. At the same time,
however, the tenor of the discourse in the center was oriented more towards substantive
discussion than sarcasm, combative one-liners, or short linking posts. With regards to technical
affordances for collaboration, almost none of the center blogs had user diaries or secondary blogs
or offered anything in the way of enhanced commenting, social networking, recommendation, or
reputation functions. In this, they were more similar to the right than the left, although the
number of center blogs offering collaborative affordances was too low to render statistically
meaningful comparisons. In contrast to the right, however, the center blogs called for more
reporting tips and had more “in-depth” secondary content, although the intensity of secondary
participation remained relatively low. Taken together, these attributes suggest that the center may
have a culture of participation that is distinct from that of the right or left. Further research will
be necessary to confirm or reject these observations.”

TallDave April 9, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I think their reasoning is a bit faulty. By far the primary reason the “right” blogs look the way they do is because they mirror the MSM’s top-driven model, because they are the mainstream media for much of the right. The left by and large already has the MSM, so it makes sense that they tend to prioritize mobilization and discussion.

bill reeves April 10, 2012 at 10:40 am

This finding makes sense when you recognize that there are far more authoritative and dominant traditional media outlets with a left perspective than a right one. Thus the left blogosphere is offering a product that differentiates it from the dominant information brands. By contrast, the right blogosphere – not having much mainstream competition, is filling a need for right leaning information – thus is takes a form that is more tops down and ‘traditional’.

Jack Lacton April 11, 2012 at 2:01 am

So people on the left, who generally believe in collectivism, congregate together and socialize things on blogs while people on the right, who tend to believe in personal liberty and responsibility, do things on their own.

I am completely underwhelmed that the study came to the conclusion it did.

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