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    • Like a lot of us, I've been focused on the role of Facebook and Twitter in worldwide elections. But according to a book by 3 Harvard professors who analyzed a whole ton of data, in the U.S., Fox is far more influential.

      I don't know why I didn't more of it, but my extended family and their large numbers of friends have Fox playing in the background all day but aren't on social media. I adore them, they're smart and would do anything for anyone, but the conspiracy theories...

      Our data repeatedly show Fox as the transmission vector of widespread conspiracy theories. The original Seth Rich conspiracy did not take off when initially propagated in July 2016 by fringe and pro-Russia sites, but only a year later, as Fox News revived it when James Comey was fired. The Clinton pedophilia libel that resulted in Pizzagate was started by a Fox online report, repeated across the Fox TV schedule, and provided the prime source of validation across the right-wing media ecosystem.

      What do you think?

    • I don't follow American news networks for obvious reasons, but from what I see online I do see a lot of criticism and hate aimed at Fox News. As someone on the outside looking in, my perception is that Fox News is a terrible source of information for Americans.

      I don't know how the social media landscape is in the US, but in Malaysia, with our historic 14th General Election still fresh in our minds, social media played an immense role. It was long believed that the ruling coalition of 60 years (Barisan Nasional) was able to stay in power for so long because they controlled the media, hence controlling what information people consume. Now though thanks to social media (and instant messaging apps like WhatsApp), the influence of traditional media in shaping people's perception has greatly diminished. The government can't control the internet (at least not in Malaysia), so all the government could have done was to say "don't believe everything you read online". Many people believe Barisan Nasional lost the election because of the 1MDB scandal, which everyone was made aware of thanks to social media.

      A lot of young people also came out to vote during this election, and we all know younger voters tend to spend more time online rather than watch the news on TV, so this kinda shows how big social media influenced our elections.

    • Like a lot of us, I've been focused on the role of Facebook and Twitter in worldwide elections. But according to a book by 3 Harvard professors who analyzed a whole ton of data, in the U.S., Fox is far more influential.

      Of course it's more influential. Fox News has a far vaster reach and a much, much more interesting presentation that the vast bulk of social media. Despite what you may have heard, most people want as little as possible to do with news (beyond the hyper-local) via social media. They are interested in their neighbors and their friends, and sometimes what their neighbors and friends think. They don't go to social media to find out what the "social elite" think unless they are already in a social group which privileges elite members.

      However, given the general political inclination in academia, and in the Washington Post, it's not hard to figure out why they would find that "conspiracy theories" find a much stronger vector on Fox than in social media. Beyond even the fact that it's just a better vector in general for all communication, they have a strong impetus to see divergent ideas there as "fake news", to borrow a phrase, that elsewhere.

      It's particularly easy to make that assessment when the distribution of ideology across the media landscape is as polarized as it is. Fox News is one of the only, and definitely the only major, news outlets with even a mild conservative bias. They have a huge audience because that audience is underserved in the marketplace; no one else is chasing those advertising dollars. They make an easy target.

      The opposite analysis, while true, is a much harder thing to sell as "we have the solution to the nation's political problems." If the subtitle for the article was "without CNBC's, CNN's, and MSNBC's megaphone, left-wing conspiracy theories would die," it would likewise be self-evidently clear – but doesn't provide the visceral pleasure of someone getting to say "if it just wasn't for this one group of bad people…"

      In a sense, this article is a sort of meta-conspiracy theory which allows its holders to feel superior to another class or group because they imagine evils in the world can be attributed to them.

    • Hmmm, I've tried to internalize this since you replied but I'm having difficulty. Here's my dilemma: I adore my extended family and friends in Southern Utah and in many ways I think of them as better than me. They will do anything for anyone in need, they work hard, the have a fantastic network of friends, they're as honest as can be. I admire them and wish I could be as good.

      When we're there (often, and on the phone every day), we hear their fears and anguish. The invaders in Mexico have leprosy and smallpox with ISIS members hidden among them. We don't know if the troops will be enough to stop them because they're not allowed to shoot.

      I think what the data the researchers gathered shows is that political conspiracy theories spread on the right more than they do on the left. It's not a matter of ideology, good versus evil, it's just data. That's why when sites start publishing fake news for profit, they experiment with stories on the left and the right, but they inevitably go right because it's where they can get the views and resulting ad dollars. And my poor family suffers.

      Having said that, I'm well aware that both the far left and far right seem to believe the vaccination conspiracies equally and the vector for its spread appears to be social media, not TV. No?

    • I guess I have to jump in here.

      I lived in southern Utah for years and know exactly what you are talking about. I also have close relatives living in the Bay Area who are Fox News fans.

      It is very difficult if not impossible to have an intelligent conversation with my Bay Area relatives—some are extremely suspicious and argumentative. They are Mormon, and sometimes I think they fall into the Fox News thing because they have been told over and over that they are “peculiar” (outsiders) and Fox News, being THE dumbed-down and fake news channel, confirms their worst fears about society in general. Fox also seems to give them the feeling that they know the “inside story” without having to mix into society personally and experience a lot of stuff first-hand. They are used to living in their own bubble, and Fox News makes life outside that bubble seem very black-and-white. Fox conveys a strong sense of tribalism—a thing they believe in already. I could go on and on, but I won’t. (I should mention I was raised a Mormon.)

      Now, taking a look at the southern Utah scene... During many years in rural southern Utah, I came to see that most political concerns boil down to one overriding issue: land rights. That is really the bottom line. Because land ownership is so fundamental to economic survival, pioneer families do not have the luxury to consider alternate views. They really can’t afford to consider the moral questions. Their livelihood depends on the stewardship of the land and if that land is locked up by some government official or some “tree-hugger,” those families directly suffer the economic consequences—they simply cannot afford to entertain the philosophical conversations that tend to exist on the left, and seem to directly attack their way of life.

      Chances are, your southern Utah relatives are a combination of both types of Fox News fans.

    • When we're there (often, and on the phone every day), we hear their fears and anguish. The invaders in Mexico have leprosy and smallpox with ISIS members hidden among them. We don't know if the troops will be enough to stop them because they're not allowed to shoot.

      Ah. I see. You're still laboring under the belief that your personal conspiracy theories are somehow materially different from the conspiracy theories (and incoherent fears, to be completely fair) of people who believe differently than you. This often gets in the way of understanding the perspectives of those people.

      I live in suburban Georgia. Believe me, I understand and have significant exposure to the beliefs of people who lean conservative. My libertarian friends wonder if I'm not some sort of secret, undercover plant given that despite being socially liberal in the classical sense and a staunch atheistic materialist, I'm a strong fiscal conservative and have a weird affinity for understanding conservative thought.

      So let's look at the examples of conspiratorial thought you gave.

      The odds are extremely good that the organized group of economic migrants running several thousand strong from Central America is largely unvaccinated, and will represent a multi-thousand introduction of unvaccinated, disease carrying individuals into a population which tends to be tightly clustered into urban areas surrounded by large expanses of hostile rural area. Epidemiological study of herd immunity states openly what the results of that are, just as clearly as they state why childhood vaccination is absolutely imperative for maintaining a stable and protected population. Are they likely to have leprosy or smallpox? Probably not. Measles, rubella, and non-local origin influenza? A very high likelihood.

      While the details of that fear are incorrect, the basic impulse is fairly well grounded.

      ISIS? Certainly not impossible. We've already found a small number of people who have come across the southern border who did not originate in Central or South America on the way through Mexico. Were any of them ISIS agents? No. Not as far as anyone knows. Is it possible? Given the very clear and obvious permeability of Mexico's southern border, it seems like anyone with the inclination could enter the southwestern United States via that mechanism, and surely members of terrorist or mildly hostile intelligence organizations are capable of at least that much. It would be embarrassing if they weren't.

      Again, the fears are inaccurate on the specifics but broadly at least positions that intelligent, reasonable people could have concern about.

      Now let's take something you said and consider something further.

      I think what the data the researchers gathered shows is that political conspiracy theories spread on the right more than they do on the left.

      No, what they have shown is that what they consider to be political conspiracy theories spread more on the right than they do on the left. Of course, none of the beliefs that they possess could ever be seen as conspiracy theories. This is the problem with most academic political research of the last several decades; academians have almost zero self-awareness when it comes to observing their own tendencies and beliefs in the social sciences.

      Take for example the biggest and most pernicious conspiracy theory of the last two years: the idea that Donald Trump conspired with the Russian oligarchy in the pursuit of political power.

      Do you think that's a conspiracy theory? I mean it literally, in every way, definitionally, is exactly a conspiracy theory – and it absolutely has been pushed day in and day out by mainstream media outlets who overwhelmingly support the American Left.

      Relatedly, consider the tightly coupled idea that the Russians had some sort of undue influence over the 2016 elections via, apparently, the magical mechanism of buying advertising which was largely indistinguishable from many of the same ideas being pushed by other activists. The stated assumption being that everyone to the right of Che was simply too stupid to recognize clumsy manipulation but the implicit assumption being an incoherent fear that citizens with a Left-leaning bent were too stupid to recognize clumsy manipulation.

      Both of those conspiracy theories have been pushed really, really hard by CNN, MSNBC, CBS – you name it. And they are rooted in what we might reasonably say is a grounded concern but completely detached from any sort of understanding of the facts and details of empirical evidence.

      I'm not saying that anything is a matter of good versus evil. I've always respected the idea of evil; evil gets things done. These things don't rise to the level of that. They're just people being people.

      That's why when sites start publishing fake news for profit, they experiment with stories on the left and the right, but they inevitably go right because it's where they can get the views and resulting ad dollars. And my poor family suffers.

      And this is where you go completely off the rails.

      All news outlets publish fake news for profit. They always have. Good journalists in the past often tried to stay away from it and there was, for quite a while, a preference for reporting just the facts and trusting the audience to make their own decision about them. Or at least appearing to do that.

      That's not the case anymore. At a certain point the industry of journalism stopped trusting that the audience would make decisions journalists wanted them to make. That didn't require conspiracy, there was no great meeting of editors who decided "we are all going to lean Left and we're all going to write the same kinds of stories," it just so happened that publishing entities started hiring people who graduated from college with journalism degrees instead of people with expertise in something interesting who then learned to journal. As a result, more and more people who could graduate from college with a journalism degree when it a journalism degree – and they tended to be upper-middle-class with aspirations, highly Left-inclined, self-righteous, opinionated, and increasingly detached from the processes and experiences of day-to-day life for most of their fellow citizens.

      Fox News just happened to come along at a really good time to disrupt the process that was already long underway by co-opting the methods and means of presentation already present in broadcasting but subverting a basic assumption about the audience. It was, interestingly enough, a very progressive idea – that there was an underserved part of the market (that just happened to lean conservative), that market had money, and they would enjoy and indulge the same sorts of things that their Left-leaning compatriots were profiting from. In the early days, they made at least a token effort to come across as more balanced than their competitors, particularly CNN, but it has been many years since that was the case.

      So if Harvard social scientists perceive a preponderance of conspiracy theories on the right, there are multiple reasons that may be the case and they are still wrong. Left-leaning conspiracy theories are promulgated as reality and those social scientists subscribe to those beliefs, so they don't think of them as conspiracy theories. Right-leaning conspiracy theories stand out more from the background by being targeted at what is still an underserved social group. They get views and ad dollars because someone believes, possibly rightly, that someone else wants to read them.

      Your family is not suffering. Your family is making what they think of as reasonable choices given a vast multitude and myriad of conflicting inputs, specific and local cultural influences, and the detritus of 50 years of an educational system heavily dominated by progressive educational theory and union dominance – which has been largely observed to be wrong.

      It's a bit infantilizing of you to say "your poor family suffers." It's as if you don't think they are capable of making reasonable decisions for themselves. You can disagree with the decisions that they make for themselves perfectly reasonably, but disagreement is no basis for thinking they are making decisions on any less reasonable basis than you are.

      Believe me, this is a difficult position for me to maintain considering how I feel about the toxin that is religion and how it is a destructive, self-defeating, irrational structure of thought – but I don't think of my neighbors as "my poor neighbors suffering under religion," I think of them as having made poor decisions that I disagree with.

      Having said that, I'm well aware that both the far left and far right seem to believe the vaccination conspiracies equally and the vector for its spread appears to be social media, not TV. No?

      I'm not sure that the vector for conspiracy theory can be laid at the feet of social media, either. It's very tempting for people involved in the industry to want to suggest that any significant social action is the result of that industry, just as it is for people in any form of publication or broadcasting to believe that their industry is the root of all social movements, good or bad.

      The truth is that even in the absence of TV, newspaper, social social media, and even books – conspiracy theories have flourished. Before mass media in any form, conspiracy theories flourished. People like legends. People like to simplify the complex nature of reality. They like things that can be told to one another as stories in order to communicate something about the world.

      It's ultimately just people being people.

      If there's anything that media is responsible for over the last 50 years, it's the spreading belief that individuals are less trustworthy than groups. That has been a consistent message on all fronts, and it's led to a global populace who have begun taking the idea seriously. It becomes ever more thinkable that some "group" is responsible for almost every evil they can imagine – and that's the root of three quarters of the conspiracy theories in play.

    • What's striking to me is here in Silicon Valley, 87% of the electorate went for Hillary. We've always had a large Mormon population, second only to Utah, although it has declined sharply here in the last 30 years. The Mormon population here is half of what it was 30 years ago despite the big population growth.

      I don't have numbers for how many lean far to the right, but I'm very close to around two dozen who do. They integrate with the rest of Silicon Valley just fine at work, school, in the community, etc., but they're all about Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and President Trump. My Mormon friends, including women, are fervent fans of his. I have a great deal of respect for them, I just don't share their political views.

    • Chris MacAskill

      Wow, lextenebris, what different views of the world we have. What got me interested in the book the Harvard professors wrote is how much data they produced, that's what I had intended to get into, not opinions about biases or intent.

      I couldn't follow your other arguments, I'm sorry to say. I guess what I'm taking away is it's one of those times when reasonable people see the same things in completely different ways. Doesn't mean we can't find common ground on other topics.

      For those that are interested in the book, in my view of the world (show me credible data), it's a great book:

    • Fascinating, Jazli. I had no visibility into elections in Malaysia. There are a lot of governments in the world and some of them have famously tried to (or still do) restrict access to social media. Now the trend in places like Saudi Arabia is to try and control social media like they have traditional media via hiring fairly substantial social media teams.

      In the U.S. there is a lot of data to suggest that for many voters, TV is still king.

    • The Mormon population here is half of what it was 30 years ago despite the big population growth.

      Do you think that’s due to emigration? or apostasy?

    • Back when I was in church leadership, we closed 12 stakes surrounding the bay. That's a lot. I wondered then what the mechanism was and expressed my view that California is a leading indicator of trends so we might see this elsewhere.

      One thing is our area is very expensive and workaholicy. Many non-Mormon families here have two incomes, fewer kids, more time to devote to their careers, and no tithing to pay. A lot of members moved back to Utah because cost of living. Many of their kids couldn't buy houses here.

      I wondered if being deep red politically like so many Mormons and evangelicals are is hard in this area. They made a big effort to change California's constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage, funded with donations from Utah, and that didn't sit well with some of their coworkers and non-Mormon friends here. The Mormon brand went from standing for virtue, hard work, and family to anti-gay in this part of California, not so much in Utah, and my Mormon friends are still furious about it, thinking people were unfair.

      We did lose a lot of members (like me) over becoming what we considered to be a secretive political action committee that was found guilty of 13 counts of election fraud in California.

    • On the political front, Romney’s run for president and the “secret video” may have also dealt a low blow to the Mormon brand along with Orrin Hatch’s dismissive attitude (especially during the Kavanaugh hearings)... As for the culture wars, there’s the whole Boy Scout debacle and the Imagine Dragons/Neon Trees stuff, BYU football dropping off the map, the Five Browns, etc.

      It seems even the members of the first presidency don’t want to be known as Mormons anymore...

    • Thanks. A statement from a rancher in NorCal stuck with me. “Liberals want to re-introduce wolves here. Let’s see them introduce wolves in Golden Gate Park first.”

    • I find the content on LinkedIn to be even more self-serving and inane than on Twitter and Facebook, which is saying a lot. 😂 I find it ridiculous that people *share* on that platform, but that probably says more about my generation than it does anything else. I think of LinkedIn as just a dig data version of the circular file where irrelevant resumes go to die; it’s the place I search if I want to find out someone’s professional affiliations or find their contact info...

    You've been invited!