Saturday, September 30, 2017

Levi Boxell — The internet, social media, and political polarisation

The internet has received a substantial amount of blame for the recent increase in political polarisation. Using US data, this column argues that, in fact, the internet has played no significant role in a generally increasing trend of political polarisation that goes back at least to the 1970s. The results highlight the importance of looking beyond convenient narrative explanations, and the need for a deeper understanding of the drivers of political sentiment.
Although unmentioned, an implication of the study is that the supposed "Russian influence" on the US election through the Internet and social media was minor at most. The country has been highly polarized for decades. Moreover, HRC won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college, a uniquely American phenomenon. Her loss is easily account for by her failure to campaign sufficiently in states that she assumed were safe. That outside interference flipped those states is implausible on the evidence. If there was an influence based on the Internet and social media, it is more plausible that it came from Big Data provided to the campaigns for strategic use by firms such as Cambridge Analytica.
The internet, social media, and political polarisation
Levi Boxell, PhD student in Economics, Stanford University

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