Do social media drive the rise in right-wing populism?

Abstract: Many observers are concerned that echo chamber effects in digital media are contributing to the polarization of publics and in some places to the rise of right-wing populism. This study employs survey data collected in France, the United Kingdom, and United States (1500 respondents in each country) from April to May 2017. Overall, we do not find evidence that online/social media explain support for right-wing populist candidates and parties. Instead, in the USA, use of online media decreases support for right-wing populism. Looking specifically at echo chambers measures, we find offline discussion with those who are similar in race, ethnicity, and class positively correlates with support for populist candidates and parties in the UK and France. The findings challenge claims about the role of social media and the rise of populism.

That is from a new paper by Shelley Boulianne, Karolina Koc-Michalska, and Bruce Bimber, via somebody on Twitter.


Yes, this should have been obvious from the fact that social media is disproportionately used by the young while right-wing populism disproportionately appeals to the old.

I do think there should be more exploration into the idea that homogenous in-person social networks tend to create support for right-wing populism though. That reminds me of a paper from a while ago finding that civic organizations of all types in Nazi Germany positively predicted faster spread of Nazi Party support: There’s a narrative out there that alienation and loneliness are somehow causing right-wing populism. I’ve not seen a shred of evidence supporting that narrative, and my intuition is quite the opposite—spending all your time in homogenous groups should encourage collectivist and anti-outsider thinking (indeed, it seems that right-wing populist views spread faster in small towns where people are more communal and homogenous than in large cities that are more individualistic and diverse). It would be good to see more empirical research on this.

Cass Sunstein agrees. Something must be done about the horrible menace of friendship.

This is all BS. The rise in populism is the result in the rise in the far left socialism/communism. The people don't want their assets and income stolen and them loaded into boxcars.

Actually socialism IS populism run amok. The socialists aren't coming for the assets and income of the poor and middle class, which are the groups with all the people (populism...people-ism)

In hindsight, Hitler wasn't such a bad guy. At least he killed the libtards off.

There it is.

Sorry, that should have said “Weimar Germany”.

The current revolts in Chile, Colombia, and Hong Kong have a strong social media element to it but doesn't fit neatly into a right/left narrative.

Mass revolts terrify the status quo rulers, because the thugs-in-charge know they are in the wrong; they simply don’t want to surrender their very profitable stranglehold over the state.

The notion that unelected, deep state/CIA/FBI/DoJ bureaucrats are feverishly laboring for the interests of the American people is 'crazy.'

The contrast between Clapper and Stone lying to congress is horrendous. It is clear whose side FBI is on. Their own!

Sounds like Simpson's Paradox.

True, within pop the Extremely Online trend to mostly being weird, wrong socialists. That's what online SJW pressure gangs make and selects for. You have to have a good amount of backbone and honesty (and probably a bit of obsessiveness with how things really are) not to fall in with that crap or decide not to dial your internet use down.

But that does not mean that across the population as a whole, the internet has not facilitated the rise of other new political expressions and ideas ("extreme" Right).

Doesn't that give a tin ear to the nature of *this* silo?

(Breaking silos since 1985.)

This one I like. It would have been better if “M” had mentioned some sort of silo for you to pun off of. Maybe wait for a farming comment before you repost this. Or wasn’t there a nuclear weapon post a few weeks ago? This would have been great there.

There are many "silos" online, but on average, the skew on MR is really not typical. Goes without saying really.

MR is a pretty major intersectory nexus of the GMU centre-right (for representatives see the Emergent Ventures winners) and the "Sailer right".

Both pretty major relative to today's leading thought on the Right. But pretty small in commentimg and participation volume compared to its left peers - dwarfed in influence among the Extremely Online by politics reddits that mostly skew way left of the average or the left stuff which passes for politics in "geek" media.

I could quibble but that characterization of MR seems pretty fair.

Ok, to quibble .. I think the center-right is better represented in responses to this question, TBH

Don't hide your light under a bushel.

Interesting take. By volume of comments, the prolific commenters here are:

anonymous/bear: elusive on actual policy positions but hyper focused on anti-Trump/pro Democrats

rayward: moderate liberal Episcopalian southern lawyer

Thiago: deranged troll

Clockwork: Green/Pirate party terminated GMU employee expat with a grudge

DtB: Trump supporting Boomer

Random Name: my hypothesis is MsgKings, a moderate and anti-Trump

Bill: moderate liberal lawyer, my guess is west coast or NE

Rat/jwatt: center right

General C: troll

TPM/tmc: Trump supporter

Hazel: libertarian

Art Deco: conservative catholic I think? Get an Opus Dei vibe

Then there’s a few hyper focused on specific issues: perkowski, sure, Matt young, one handle was obsessed with MMT, etc.

Don't forget me! I'm a belligerent pro Trump a$$hole and hateful deplorable.

I haven't been able to hang out with you cucks lately because I have a really hot Thai girlfriend.

You all suck except the Butcher and Sure.

Ok, back to my Thai sweetie.

Keep the guillotines well-oiled and the blades sharpened, we haven't even started on the elite &$&#suckers yet.

The search engines have connected up a world wide debt repudiation movement. I think it was a bug, a bug in the censorship protocol.

One or more radical blog sites got caught in a censorship loop. The search semantiic could never close because the blog was censored but blocked from searchers by the search engine. It caused an unclosable loop.

Then some nut heads begin commenting on the radical ideas in certain comment sections, which were searched and continually looped.

A majority of American voters voted against all 4 candidates for president.

30 years later and you can't get over being fired.


Social media doesn't convert moderate views to left-wing or right-wing views, social media reinforces views already held. That's a distinction that this study may or may not make: the abstract implies that the authors were looking for the conversion evidence not reinforcement. The claim that social media can shift views from left to right or right to left implies that people are little more than empty vessels. Effective advertising reinforces a consumer's desire to buy that Lexus it doesn't create a desire from whole cloth. If one looks at a pair of athletic shoes on Amazon, what follows are pop-up ads for athletic shoes and other athletic wear. If one visits an alt-right video on YouTube, what follows are pop-up links to alt-right videos. What's concerning isn't the power of the internet to reinforce, but the power of the internet to discourage one from hearing or reading alternative views: if one visits a site that expresses contrary views, the penalty is pop-ups for links to sites with similar alternative views. Do I really want my internet experience invaded by unwanted trespassers spreading propaganda?

I knew you would post that and you didn’t disappoint.

From the time stamp it wasn’t your first post so I was wrong about that.

It's excellent in two ways, right? On it's own merit, and then to puncture this bubble.

This is the place where a recurring comment is "OMG how can you link the NYT/WP/NPR!" Or "I stopped reading at NYT/WP/NPR."

Well, it turns out NPR keeps you most well informed. Who woulda thought .. here, eh?

Awesome. Simply awesome.

I tip my hat sir.

Link please. For regular commenters saying

"OMG how can you link the NYT/WP/NPR!"

I’ve seen you get called out here multiple times for using, ironically, right wing tabloids.

The commenter wasn’t shouting

"OMG how can you link the NYT/WP/NPR!" Or "I stopped reading at NYT/WP/NPR."

That’s not a fair reading of his comment. It was clearly the explicit characterization of NPR as right wing that caused the loss of credibility in his eyes.

OK, how about this one:

">...right-wing whack job but this is coming from NPR!"

"Which is staffed entirely by left-wing whack jobs."

"+1 thank you. I was trying so hard to resist Alex's whack job trolling but appreciate you stating the obvious which had to be done. NPR has devolved into the Infowars for leftists."


You really don’t get the joke?

Alex Tabarrok’s post headline was

The headline sounds like something from a right-wing whack job but this is coming from NPR!


You really are a troll. A guy straight up says:

"NPR has devolved into the Infowars for leftists."

And you want us to look at something else. You are dead to me.

I’d be more inclined to agree with you if your one valid example wasn’t both 15 months old (August 2018) and didn’t include multiple regular commenters correcting him.

I suppose that’s why you didn’t include the link?

Here’s literally the next two comments.

If that's the case, I'm not sure you're listening to the same NPR or Infowars the rest of country is.

NPR loves America. Infowars loves Putin. Big Difference.

So one example, from 15 months ago, in which the commenter was refuted twice immediately.

With no comments in support.

This is the regular occurrence that you felt needed to be called out.

This is the closest you have. And it’s not that close.

"OMG how can you link the NYT/WP/NPR!" Or "I stopped reading at NYT/WP/NPR."

It doesn’t fit your criteria, but it is a snarky response to a NPR book review about generic drugs.

So one snarky comment from four months ago.


It’s all part of the script. Anonymous had the follow up responses to his/her post ready. The link to the “Fox News makes you dumb” study is always followed up by the “NYT is trash” comment. Try an experiment some time. Post the Fox News study somewhere and the comments that follow will be predictable.

That’s how I knew anonymous would post it. He/she has several preprogrammed links ready. As well as responses to anyone that comments. You can tell from his/her comment above regarding breaking silos.

If no one had taken the bait, the link to the study would reappear at a later date. It probably will again.

Actually I don't have anything scripted, just a search engine handy.

And to continue in my honesty, I really would have been happy if the "skeptic" hadn't played dumb about this blog and NPR.

Who is really the troll, right?

The whole "prove it" was a pointless diversion and waste of time. Anyone who understands this echo chamber / silo already knows.

Of course you have your responses scripted. That’s why you have so many non-sequitors. You probably have one saved file of links for “conservative” sites you troll and another file for “liberal” sites. You aren’t googling then responding.

I’ve actually been looking for your writing style on other comment sections but haven’t succeeded so far. But then again, I really don’t care that much. It’s Friday and I’m bored.

I guess I'll take it as a compliment that I have a memory for the stories I've seen, and not a file.

On a boring Friday .. go order a Cybertruck. I did. It's good for a laugh.

I watched the original Total Recall again yesterday and that CyberTruck looks exactly like one of Mars cabs. I’m still hoping an electric Pick Up that can survive winters outside without being actively charged is eventually developed. Otherwise I’m stuck with diesel.

In SoCal we mostly drive "mountain ready" cars in the sun.

In America we drive on actual opinions.

I’m sure you don’t have any. Can always ask your handlers !

Here’s the proof. Let’s hear your top three policy changes !


I think Trump voters would be more likely to avoid anti-social media. The public hatred and occasional violence directed at them has made them a little shy about expressing their views in public. A do sense a change as Trump supporters are speaking out more. My wife belongs to a book club that just discussed The Handmaids Tale. When she commented that it seemed more applicable to an Islamic country than Trump’s America, oh boy did she piss off those that lean left. I think that “progressives” have gotten so used to shutting down other views with outrage, that their debating skills have atrophied. But then, their “ideas” are crap and they really have nothing that is defensible.

Also related:

"Traditional and social media are intertwined in a manner that makes spotting and stopping the viral spread of propaganda difficult, and there is no easy way to protect ourselves against these sorts of “active measures” while defending our cherished First Amendment rights."

It's a tough world out there, and I think there is no doubt that the new volume and interconnectedness of social and traditional media means that questionable stories do reach more voters than ever before.

That old, calming, world where people watched network news, read a daily paper, and probably not even the editorial section is long gone.

I would frame it differently.

Everyone’s voice is louder. The crank at the end of the bar ranting about conspiracy theories would normally be ignored. Now he can post it on YouFace and find an audience, albeit hopefully a small one. Occasionally these are amplified on social media to an extreme via a partisan pathway. Obama/Kenya, Trump/Dossier Allegations. But keep in mind traditional media had a large part to play in amplifying both.

The old world wasn’t comforting at all, in that truth was as easily suppressed as lies. Think how much the Government used to get away with. MK Ultra, COINTELPRO, the list is endless..

Exhibit A: the current scandal of the networks blocking stories (and firing potential leakers) about Epstein

Isn't this precisely why the right now hates big internet companies?

"What predicts/explains/could possibly account for" pieces that use the term "echo chamber" seem to go chiefly in one direction.

But what factor in my personality that might be open to amelioration predicted my noticing (or deluding myself into thinking) that?

It's telling that the availability of a wider range of political opinion is a "concern." I guess the researchers are thinking that if dissenting voices are allowed to be heard in society at large, eventually they may even want in to the academy.

This blog exercises no QC whatsoever on its comments.

That’s not exactly true. Comments are removed but there doesn’t seem to be a clear standard for removal. It also appears that there aren’t many moderators so sometimes the removal takes a long time.

Social media has made the left go way far left, and has pulled its politicians with it so much so that Pelosi and Obama, both in their day far left, to warn the Dems not to go off the rails. The right has just been reacting. If an unnamed politician ran today with the same positions as Obama did in 2008 he'd never make the stage. One with Bill Clinton's views would be called Hitler.

Someone with Reagan's views would be a RINO.


The part has moved to the left of Reagan, but I think RINO is to mean even left of that, like Romney. So today's Republicans are mostly RINOs. There's a division between the big govt and small govt Republicans. The small govt Republicans pretty much lost when the big govt Republicans and the Obama administration teamed up against the Tea party.

Someone with Reagan's views would be a RINO.

Reagan was categorically opposed to racial preference schemes and the like, ignored the gay lobby almost completely, engineered a military build-up that was contextually twice as large as that during the 2d Bush Administration, sponsored a vigorous campaign to enforce the drug laws, and put Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Try again.

Reagan was a hawk and built an alliance with social conservatives, no doubt about that.

On the other hand, he raised capital gains taxes and payroll taxes in order to attack deficits. He also signed on to an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

These arguments are always problematic since they involve taking figures from the past and imagining how they would behave in a very different political environment and context. Nevertheless, the first idea is completely rejected by both the GOP establishment and Trump despite deficits that are comparable to those faced in the 1980s. The second -- some sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants -- has been supported by moderate Republicans and the opposition generated to such an idea is one of the biggest catalysts for Trumpism today.

LOL. I guess the liberal monopoly on mass media from the 1950's to the launch of FoxNews somehow didn't create an echo chamber for left wing ideology!

Are you counting Henry Luce in your fifties-era liberal media monopoly?

Luce was a part of the internationalist wing of the Republican Party and much of the content of his preferred editorial line was subscribed to by the northern wing of the Democratic Party. That aside, Luce died in 1967 and by 1975 if not earlier the editorial line of Time was congruent with the prevailing currents within the Democratic Party. Hedley Donovan held a position on Jimmy Carter's staff after he relinquished the editor's chair and Strobe Talbott bounced back and forth between political positions and his berth at Time.

Eric Kaufman's explanation seems to fit the data best.

"I'm an idiotic anti-Semite"

Abstract: Many observers are concerned

Cue Mandy Rice-Davies.

I understand that MR likes to keep it oblique, theoretical, rather than direct or concrete.

But just understand, the polarization, and the question of right wing populism, has come to this:

This is in reference to something from Rich Lowry that fairly caught fire among the (real) centrists:

One flaw in this analysis is that it is based on a survey of a representative sample of the U.S. population. But only 46.1% of the U.S. population backed Trump. Rather, voters in swing states backed Trump and their votes led to Trump's victory, despite Trump's non-plurality of votes.

To understand why a majority of voters in swing states voted for Trump, we would need to look at a representative sample of likely voters from swing states.

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