Bri Manning


November 6, 2018

A troubling article from BuzzFeed called “This Is How We Radicalized The World” has circulated the last few days. It details the swing to the radical right we’ve seen in the last few years. Traveling from country to country, you see examples of this happening in a variety of places. There was one line that stood out among the rest:

There are deserts of information where normal people are algorithmically served memes, poorly aggregated news articles, and YouTube videos without any editorial oversight or regulation.

I’ve talked about bots sowing discord online before. The trends are well researched and tracked. It even affects niche sites like Hacker News. Take the flood of one-sided comments with no real discussion on this article about Russian propaganda, for example. When someone finds ways to game the algorithm and boost their signal above others, it doesn’t matter if the signal is false. It’s already out there and spread. It’s already too late.

Here’s a quick aside about the above article. When someone says they are “censored” by American publications, they’re saying those publications have too high standards. The publications don’t allow the publishing of outright falsehoods or unverified claims. Anyway, that’s beside this point.

What I’m wondering about recently is if and what kind of radicalization is happening on the left. That’s all you read about if you punish yourself into reading comments on articles like this. The complaints are about “leftists” being some vague version of socialism. A version where you need to believe some undescribed party line. The actual “leftist” beliefs aren’t actually in there. Things like healthcare for all, decreasing the gap between the rich and the poor, quality education, and humane treatment of people aren’t radical ideas. They’re things that most people would at least agree with the idea of, even if they don’t agree on the way to get there.

Let’s look at the first three: unaffordable healthcare, wealth inequality, and lack of education. Those are economic issues among people who will often have no where else to look. They’ll look at how things were 10, 20, 30 years ago and believe they were better off. Regardless of if they’re right, it’s easy to take advantage of that and focus on that to achieve an agenda.

Since conservative movements focus on keeping things as they are, it’s no surprise that those movements often want to push things back. And if you’re a person who sees that past as better than now, you’ll agree with them. In this scenario, the antagonist in this narrative is someone who has changed things.

If we look at left movements that spur things in the other direction, they’re usually an effort also solve those problems, but in a different way. The antagonist here is the person with power, rights, etc, who’s keeping it from others.

The French Revolution and the revolutions after are a decent representation of this. Times when the right has power, it tries to pull things back to the way things were. Times when the left has power, it tries to redistribute wealth and power. After the initial removal of the monarchy, this happens via conflicts over the balance of voting rights. That is certainly a great oversimplification, but it’s a general trend for those revolutions

What’s missed is that 10, 20, 30 years ago, power was more distributed. You cannot ignore the plenty of groups who were more downtrodden then than they are now. Yet we were, more equal in economic power. That is what has changed in that timeframe. It’s also a lot harder to deal with and legislate those issues. After all, the people who would have to do that are the ones in power and have the most to lose.