Posts Tagged ‘Trump supporters’

From Preference Bubbles to Social Inception:

December 18, 2019

The title of this post is identical to half of a title in Messing with the Enemy an excellent book by Clint Watts. The second half of the title is “The Future of Influence.” In previous posts HM has mentioned the tremendous optimism regarding the internet that was written in this blog when it began in 2009. Physical boundaries no longer mattered. People passionate about chess, cancer research, or their favorite television shows could find like-known enthusiasts around the world wanting to share their thoughts and experiences. Those under oppressive regimes, denied access to information and the outside world, could leverage the web’s anonymity to build connections, share their experiences, and hope for a better world, either at home or elsewhere. All these sources of knowledge became widely available for those with growth mindsets.

Unfortunately, hackers and cybercriminals were some of the first actors to exploit the internet in pursuit of money and fame. Hate groups and terrorists found the internet an anonymous playground for connecting with like-minded people. Even though there were only a handful, or possibly only one, extremists in any given town, but with the internet, there were now hundreds and even thousands of extremists who used only internet connections to facilitate physical massing of terrorists in global safe havens or remote compounds.

The internet provided a virtual safe haven for bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, allowing a small minority of Muslims inclined to jihadi extremism to connect with like-minded supporters. As counter terrorists searched the earth for al-Qaeda’s head shed, the internet provided enough cover, capacity and space for the terror group to survive physically by thriving virtually. Watts writes, “This made al-Qaeda bigger, but not necessarily better—more diffuse and elusive, but vulnerable to fissures and difficult to manage.

Watts writes, “My experiences with the crowd—watching the mobs that toppled dictators during the Arab Spring, the hordes that joined ISIS, the counterterrorism punditry that missed the rise of ISIS, and the political swarms duped by Russia in the 2016 presidential election—led me to believe that crowds are increasingly dumb, driven by ideology, desire, ambition, fear, and hatred, or what might collectively be referred to as “preferences.”

Social media amplifies confirmation bias through the sheer volume of content provided, assessed, and shared. And this is further amplified by interactions with their friends, family, and neighbors—people who more often than not, think like they do, speak like they do, and look like they do.

Watts writes, “Confirmation bias and implicit bias working together pull social media users into digital tribes. Individuals sacrifice their individual responsibility and initiative to the strongest voices in their preferred crowd. The digital tribe makes collective decisions based on groupthink, blocking out alternative viewpoints, new information, and ideas. Digital tribes stratify over time into political, social, religious, ethnic,and economic enclaves. Status quo bias, a preference for the current state of affairs over a change, sets into these digital tribes, such that members must mute dissent or face expulsion from the group. Confirmation, implicit, and status quo bias, on a grand social media scale, harden preference bubbles. These three world-changing phenomena build upon one another to power the disruptive content bringing about the Islamic State and now shaking Western Democracies.

Watts continues, “Clickbait populism—the promotion of popular content, opinions, and the personas that voice them—now sets the agenda and establishes the parameters for terrorism, governance, policy direction, and our future. Audiences collectively like and retweet that which conforms to their preferences. To win the crowd, leaders, candidates, and companies must play to test collective preferences.”

This clickbait populism drives another critical emerging current: social media nationalism. Each year, social media access increases and virtual bonds accelerate, digital nations increasingly form around online communities where individual users have shared preferences.

Watts writes, “Social media nationalism and clickbait populism have led to a third phenomenon that undermines the intelligence of crowds, threatening the advancement of humanity and the unity of democracies, the death of expertise. Expertise is undermined by those on the internet who ignore facts and construct alternative realities.

Consider two preference bubbles, the ISIS boys, and Trump supporters. For the ISIS boys it was more important to have a caliphate than to do it right. It was more essential to pursue extreme violence than to effectively govern.

For Trump supporters, it is more important to win than be correct, more important to be tough than compromise and move forward. They appear to be living in an alternative reality that disdains factual information. The Republican Party can be regarded as one big preference bubble. To be fair, one might argue that the Democratic Party should also be regarded as a preference bubble, but one does not find the unanimity created in a true preference bubble.

Your Brain is Leading You Astray

August 8, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Professor Abigail Marsh in the 7 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. She is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgetown University.

In reality, most people die of diseases of old age, such as heart disease and cancer. However, more than half of news coverage is devoted to homicides and terrorism, which account for less than 1% of actual deaths. People disproportionately buy, click on and share scary stories about people killing other people. Professor Marsh says we can blame this fact on our brain. She writes, “Your brain’s most important job is to take information about the messy, confusing world we inhabit, find patterns embedded in the noise and use them to make predictions about the future. Brains particularly like actionable intelligence—and the most useful information pertains to threats that can be avoided, thus increasing your odds of survival.”

She continues, “Heart disease and strokes don’t provide much fodder for this prediction machine. We know why they happen: because we get old. Talk about unactionable intelligence. The best you can do is to stave them off for a while by doing things we already know are healthy: Eat well, exercise, and don’t smoke. You can almost hear your brain yawning.”

She proceeds, “Now consider a gunman mowing down a crowd of innocents. Acts like this are rare, vivid and unexpected. The combination sets your brain whirring, whirring, generating a red-alert signal called a ‘prediction error,‘ a surge of activity deep in the brain’s emotional core. A prediction error signal screams: ‘Look for a cause! Prevent this next time!’ This leaves you craving even more information about such attacks, in the vain hope you can predict the next one.”

The article notes that we are not good at intuiting the minds of others, even those we know well. There is no way of intuiting the mind of a mass murderer. Most people would never commit an act like this. Prof. Marsh has spent more than a decade conducting research on rare populations such as altruistic kidney donors and psychopathic teenagers. She has come away convinced of two things. First, we are all not the same. and some people have much more (or less) capacity for compassion than average. And second: The average person is really pretty nice. Study after study bears her out. Most people return lost wallets, share resources, donate to charity and help strangers as a default response. She writes if people weren’t, on average, pretty compassionate, we wouldn’t need a label like “psychopath” for the small group of people who aren’t. She concludes,”Thus, the average person is totally unable to understand or predict why anyone would want to kill innocent people. And so the brain’s prediction machine draws the worse possible conclusion: If we can’t predict who among us is capable of heinous violence, it’s best to assume anyone could be. From there, it’s just one step further to conclude: Everyone could be. Translation: Trust no one.

She writes that up to 1 in 5 of us is genuinely paranoid. HM would consider the percentage of people who are Trump supporters. Trump’s entire campaign is based on fear. He claimed that there are many thousands of immigrants trying to enter the United States to sell drugs and commit crimes. Although one cannot argue that there are a few immigrants that do this; they constitute a distinct minority. The majority of these immigrants are leaving homes they no longer regard as safe, to go to that former safe harbor for immigrants, the United States. Most of our forebears came by this same route. Moreover, Trump supporters raise no objections about separating children from their parents and of forcing people to live in inhumane conditions. All this is the result of unfounded fear.

Fortunately, Prof. Marsh does no imply that we are victims of our brains. We can think and correct what our brain initially tells us. She concludes, “People who are trusting have more money and more friends. They are also happier, perhaps because their social lives are more rewarding. Trust also makes the world a better place—it’s the basis of all cooperations and social capital.”

In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, we must use our System 2 processes to override unwarranted fears from our System 1 processes.