Sunday, February 14, 2016

Who cries loudest about the shrill internet?

To take its** small, underdeveloped mind off the generic craziness of the day, the blogster finally ventured into some of the darker corners of Twitter to have a look at the latest German media complaints about the alleged increase in shrillness in social media.

We have written about social media bubbles, their supposed - debunked - radicalization power, the unhappiness of many in the German media establishment with Google, and more.

The single biggest problem with all claims about the nefarious social media is the dearth of solid data.

We simply do not have a nice set of data to show any changes in, say, insults, calls for violence and the other aggressive statements over time. We do have some numbers on accounts removed because of extremist contents, and Twitter proudly reports suspension, such as 125 000 ISIS related accounts. While it is self evident that the number of ISIS propaganda accounts before ISIS existed is zero, the number of suspended accounts depends on too many variables to be certain, including definition, legal aspects, number of followers, level of scrutiny, and removal efforts by the platform operator.

In the past couple of weeks, German media ran several articles that complain "the internet" was getting shriller.

What is it, how do you begin to measure it for even one culture? And on worldwide social media, where lots of people write in a foreign language? Which is not trivial because of huge potential for misunderstandings that result in a shouting match or more. This real life episode is a fun reminder of communication across languages: Clueless with dictionary.

From a scientific point of view, now would be the time to end this post and dive into Twitter's API and some natural language processing in order to get a minimum of hard facts.

From a journalist point of view, we can embrace OpEd mode the way the big boys do and go look at a few examples.

This being said, the blogster believes that some of the shrillest voices belong to the loudest complainers, which seem to congregate on what we usually call the political "right".

On social media, the *private* Twitter accounts of reporters at German tabloid BILD and found that any definition of "shrill" applies to much of what is said.
Politicians of the Christian Democrats liberally use the derogatory term "Sozi" to refer to Social Democrats, and are happy to use any variant of "Nazi", including intensifiers like "scum", to dismiss unfriendly folks or wingnuts.
"Scum" (German "Pack") is one of the most widely derogatory terms throughout all ideologies. On the far left, similar terms are in widespread use, although - in stark contrast to BILD reporters - we have not found liberal journalists engaging in the same shrill social media outbursts.

Given that it appears conservatives complain loudest about "the internet", would it be fair to ask them to set a good example and tone it down?

Not likely to happen because, of course, the ultimate rationale for lashing out is that the other party started the shouting match.

Once again just like in life in general.

Shrillness is just not a good measure.

[Update 6/24/2017] A new study from March 2017 seriously dents the easy argument that the internet drives  polarization:

NBER Working Paper No. 23258
Issued in March 2017

We find that the growth in polarization in recent years is largest for the demographic groups least likely to use the internet and social media. For example, our overall index and eight of the nine individual measures show greater increases for those older than 75 than for those aged 18–39. These facts argue against the hypothesis that the internet is a primary driver of rising political polarization.

** The K-Landnews has a rigorous policy of gender neutrality.

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