Right-wing news is everywhere

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by Neil Godfrey

Some interesting comparisons of the “left’s” and “right’s” use of social media. Again, citing Ferguson et al, with additional detail from Albright:

In the absence of data transparency, we are reserved about all claims by Facebook, Twitter, Google, or anyone else about what ads they did or did not sell or the uses of the sites; we have trouble understanding why several Congressional committees were so slow to require full public disclosure of exact information, especially once the companies admitted that the ads already ran in public. For the same reason, we are cautious about assertions by Trump campaign workers that they did not find Twitter very useful, though that assertion is potentially very telling, since so many more bots are keyed to Twitter, rather than Facebook (LoBianco, 2017).

We take much more seriously the findings of empirical studies of overall election communication patterns by independent researchers who gathered their own data. Jonathan Albright has attempted to map the “ecology” of both left and right networks in several recent studies. His work emphasizes the unusually dense, ramified character of the right wing messaging networks that developed over the last few years:

“to put it bluntly, ‘right-wing’ news is everywhere: Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, small issuebased websites, large news websites, WordPress blogs, Google Plus (?), Pinterest pages, Reddit threads, etc.” (Albright, 2016).

A Harvard study of the internet in the 2016 presidential election makes a similar point:

“Our clearest and most significant observation is that the American political system has seen not a symmetrical polarization of the two sides of the political map, but rather the emergence of a discrete and relatively insular right-wing media ecosystem whose shape and communications practices differ sharply from the rest of the media ecosystem, ranging from the center-right to the left. Right-wing media were centered on Breitbart and Fox News, and they presented partisan-disciplined messaging, which was not the case for the traditional professional media that were the center of attention across the rest of the media sphere” (Faris et al., 2017).

What’s going on here? Where are the Russians?

26 Note that Breitbart is strongly pro-Israel, as the site explained repeatedly in the wake of Charlottesville. Steve Bannon’s own movies are also quite sympathetic to African-American problems. But these facts hardly exhaust Breitbart or Bannon’s relationships to the substantial segment of the far right that is openly anti-Semitic and white supremacist. See BERNSTEIN, J. 2017. Alt-White: How the Breitbart Machine Laundered Racist Hate. BuzzFeed, October 5, 2017. Cf. also the discussion in GREEN, J. 2017. Devil’s Bargain — Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, New York, Penguin.

By 2016, the Republican right had developed internet outreach and political advertising into a fine art and on a massive scale quite on its own (Faris et al., 2017) (Albright, 2016). Large numbers of conservative websites, including many that that tolerated or actively encouraged white supremacy and contempt for immigrants, African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, or the aspirations of women had been hard at work for years stoking up “tensions between groups already wary of one another.”26 Breitbart and other organizations were in fact going global, opening offices abroad and establishing contacts with like-minded groups elsewhere. Whatever the Russians were up to, they could hardly hope to add much value to the vast Made in America bombardment already underway. Nobody sows chaos like Breitbart or the Drudge Report, as the New York Times documented in one Idaho town (Dickerson, 2017).

See the original article onsite for the full detail of the above map: https://medium.com/@d1gi/left-right-the-combined-post-election2016-news-ecosystem-42fc358fbc96

Albright’s comments:

With a few exceptions, the unique “left-wing” sites are basically nowhere to be found on the right-wing side of the network. The graph confirms that, at least as far as connections (hyperlinks) go online, much of the major “left-wing” media appear to be isolated from the most active parts of the news ecosystem.

. . .

Seriously, the “right-wing” sites have Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, Reddit, and YouTube in their own network “corner.” Need I say more?

. . .

To put it bluntly, “right-wing” news is everywhere: Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, small issue-based websites, large news websites, WordPress blogs, Google Plus (?), Pinterest pages, Reddit threads, etc.

. . .

Bottom line is, the right-wing sites appear to be linking heavily into most of the left-wing news media, the major news players, and also to each other. However, the “left-wing” media are not linking into most of the “right-wing” sites. To make matters worse, due to the relative lack of diversity in the left media ecosystem (see my last “macro-propaganda” post), there’s right-wing sites in more places across the network. This must have something to do with the “left-wing” news media/journalism “bubble.”

. . .

To make matters worse for the “left-wing” media, the right also appears to be much more active around the “center” of this combined news ecosystem. And what’s the site at the exact center of this L+R network? It’s Senate.gov. NOAA.gov appears to run a close second, though.

Albright, Jonathan. 2016. “Left + Right: The Combined Post-#Election2016 News ‘Ecosystem.’” Medium. December 11, 2016. https://medium.com/@d1gi/left-right-the-combined-post-election2016-news-ecosystem-42fc358fbc96.

Ferguson, Thomas, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen. 2018. “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election / How Money Won Trump the White House.” Institute for New Economic Thinking, Working Paper No. 66, January. https://www.ineteconomics.org/research/research-papers/industrial-structure-and-party-competition-in-an-age-of-hunger-games.


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8 thoughts on “Right-wing news is everywhere”

  1. I’m not exactly sure what all this means, but I’ll observe that back in the early days of the internet, ideological e-mail spam was essentially 100% right-wing. So this should have been a clue right way.

    I think the correct way to look at this issue is through the phenomenon of 1990s and early 2000s e-mail forwarding, most of which was actually organic and done by real people I believe.

    I haven’t seen recent solid studies of this, but I think its a good issue for study and I’d like to see some real research on the topic, because I believe that the the e-mail forwarding phenomenon can tell us something more or different about the issue than current social media can.

    When we look at the old e-mails, most of that was driven by real people, and there is something to be said about the fact that almost all of the ideological or politically related e-mails were right-wing. There is something about that mentality that drives this type of behavior. I don’t think it can all be credited to sites like Breitbart or institutions, its an issue of human mentality.

    What we’ve seen in the US is that the market driven nature of media has catered to these inherent tendencies. So instead of media institutions working as counters to negative or harmful human tendencies, what we have in America is a market driven culture in which human tendencies and desires are always amplified and exploited.

    This is the nature of market driven capitalists systems in general. I think conservative and conspiratorial mindsets seek out confirmation the most, because they get so little confirmation from the real world. Thus, this makes those mindsets a stronger market.

    Because American media is market driven, it cannot act as a counter or stabilizing force to negative behavioral tendencies. American media is always an amplifier of behavior, never a stabilizer. This is true of the unregulated internet in general, but I think particularly so in America because that tendency is already embedded in the culture.

    The way market driven American culture works is it’s like, “Oh you like candy? HERE HAVE TONS OF CANDY!!! Oh you like porn, HERE WE HAVE AN ENDLESS SUPPLY!!! Oh you like to gamble, HERE ARE 1,000 WAYS TO GAMBLE YOUR MONEY AWAY AVAILABLE 24/7!!! Oh you have fears about immigrants, HERE ARE STORIES TO STOKE THOSE FEARS!!!!”

    This is where I think there are merits to actual conservatism (not what is called “conservatism” in America). I think there is a role in society for trying to temper human desire and emotion behavioral tendencies. But the American system does none of that, instead we have a system in which profit motive strongly drives exploiting to and amplifying human behavioral problems. Human desires are “opportunities,” not problems to be managed or controlled.

    This is, of course, always a fine line. I think the problem in America is that there is such a strong profit driven incentive to exploit these tendencies.

    It’s very difficult to figure out the right way to address these issue on a large national or cultural level. On one extreme you have China/Saudi Arabia and on the other extreme you have the US. I think the issue is the underlying culture. I don’t think the media system needs centralized state control, but by the same token I think that having a media system driven by markets and profits is bad too. But its not clear how it would be possible to remove the profit drive from internet media, even if you could do it on mainstream platforms such as TV and radio.

    The irony is that “conservative” culture is driven by the very tendencies that actual conservative culture is intended to address. Actual conservatism is about the use of social controls to put a damper on the extremes of human desire. American “conservative” culture is driven by unleashing human desires and catering to and amplifying the extremes of human behavior and beliefs.

    But this is a universal problem here in America, where everything is market driven. We also even see this in our public schools. There are basically two ways to address societal behavioral changes. One can either embrace them or try to counter them. What we see in current behavioral trends among children is decreasing attention span, decreasing understanding of context, increasing vulgarity, increasing electronic attachment, etc.

    America schools could: A) try to mitigate these tendencies by proving an environment and teaching methods that work to counter these trends by doing things like not making extensive use of computers at schools and by engaging in lessons that develop patience and deep thinking. B) going with the trends and increasing the use of computers at schools and structuring lessons to cater to shorter attention spans and shallower thinking.

    What are American schools doing? B of course. Everything is becoming shortened, self-driven, search driven, computer driven, etc. Reading is no longer about developing ideas and complex understanding, it is about finding facts within a body of text. Current work in history, literature, and social studies is all stuff that can be done with a body of text and a search feature. In other words, the types of questions students are asked to answer are questions that can be answered by simply scanning texts and finding the right words. Anything that requires inference or abstraction is eliminated. Symbolism is entirely ignored. This is because American education is both “meeting kids where they are” (which is within a media environment controlled by for-profit corporations) and because of the drive for testing and metrics. You can’t easily test for abstract concepts, creativity, and comprehension of symbolism, but you can easily text for acquisition of decontextualized facts.

  2. One of the root problems here in the US is that left-wingers, while more numerous, for the most part are highly resistant to working within hierarchical structures. They would rather ‘express themselves’ and feel good about themselves, than actually achieve anything. Remember Occupy? From Day One I knew that was going to fail. It required sustained attention and discipline to keep the momentum.

    Anyone who has been to a left-wing protest and found it colonized by advocates of issues irrelevant to the issue of the moment, or seen the Democratic presidential hopefuls’ inability to say “No” to entitlements, understands what I mean. Left-wing leaders almost always expand the tent broadly to accommodate everyone’s self-designated priority. The alternative is to act in a disciplined manner and find yourself deserted by almost everyone not receiving a paycheck.

    In contrast, right-wingers love authority (or if economically libertarian, recognize it is in their interest to work with authoritarians). They are willing to take marching orders. The right-wing grassroots can and does accomplish infinitely more than the grassroots of the left, even accounting for the fact that they can be and are manipulated from above.

    1. Disparate groups on the left are certainly historically capable of organized cooperation when they get serious enough. But yes, I do suspect that the right has more groups dedicated to commitment to the bitter end no matter what the cost. I’m thinking of local efforts to establish a community radio station where christians came in and took over. The non-christians resisted their efforts for a long time but the christians just had more zeal and were never going to give up … those of us on secular side in the end had to make a decision: did we want to keep on fighting for years and years or just take a break and get on with life?

  3. Seriously, the “right-wing” sites have Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, Reddit, and YouTube in their own network “corner.” Need I say more?

    Yes, I have no idea what this means.

    1. My understanding is that it means those platforms (FB, YouTube etc) are dominated by “right-wing” groups. The greater numbers of right wing groups using those platforms mean that they in fact dominate those platforms.

  4. One should not forget that intelligence agencies and corporate PR agencies are active behind the scenes. Both are well-funded and have specific goals. They have an interest in shaping the views advanced on a variety of media outlets that target different audiences. On the left, in contrast, the main drivers (IMO) are the desire of media outlets to make a profit, and the zeal of journalists. Its surprising to me that they are doing as well as they are doing, frankly.

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