Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Russian bots on issues like gun violence tend to make extreme positions look mainstream, make it hard for politicians to pass practical reforms



Russian bots are still at it, with bots pushing relatively extreme positions into controversial debates, getting legitimate people to repost them so that outlier ideas gain traction.  That process makes it harder to pass reforms on narrower issues, like gun control and especially school safety.
  
That’s the thrust of a front page story today by Sheera Frenkel and Daikuse Wakanayashi in the New York Times. 
  
This problem seems more subtle than just possibly perturbing elections.  The Russians are trying to make it appear that open speech is dangerous to society, because it distracts electorates and keeps elected politicians afraid to settle issues and pass reforms.   This is also a serious future problem for “individual” speech like mine that isn’t connected to one side or another – which is ironic inasmuch as I see my speech as an answer to tribalism. Instead, you could wind up requiring everyone to join one side or the other.

  
But generally it’s distractions on the right-wing side that are more troubling. For example, I’ve pointed to arguments that the “absolutist” position on the Second Amendment as an individual right (including access to assault weapons) tends to feed the doomsday prepper narrative, that some day citizens will need to function without a central government after a calamity.  In this environment, it’s harder to focus on the grief of victims of major attacks.  It’s easier to maintain an atmosphere of personal aloofness  -- the so called “stoicism” problem, which may in turn feed to extreme right-wing or Nietzchean narratives that might suit oligarchical enemies, like Putin.

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