Digitalization and Political Extremism

Digitalization and Political Extremism

Mehmet Karacuka, Hakan Inke, Justus Haucap
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9187-1.ch022
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Information and communication technologies shape, direct, and deter political behaviour and institutions as the increase in internet usage regulate our daily lives. The advance of internet and digital media also shape political involvement, partisanship, and ideology. Internet, as the new media, is an important information source that shapes political behaviour along with other effects on societal layers. The new technologies provide a platform for the voices of minorities and disadvantaged communities, therefore urging a pluralist agenda. They are also blamed for the recent rise of populism and polarisation by creating echo-chambers, filter-bubbles, and the “fake news.” In this study, the authors analyse the possible effects of internet usage on political polarisation and ideological extremism by utilising World Values Survey Wave 7 Data for 40 countries. The findings show that internet usage and education level decrease extremism, while safety, work anxiety, and religiosity drive people to the extreme.
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The influence of traditional media such as print and TV, has long been a discussion topic as shaping mass opinions and perceptions. Since Gutenberg, the print has created many platforms that shape and influence religions, political behaviour, electoral choice and governance in general. The new digital media and increasing usage of digital social networks put the discussion a step further as these new media channels are user-driven and open source. These technologies have abolished the limits of time and space in communication by facilitating information sharing and networking that leads to enormous changes from economic to political spheres (Kamp, 2016). Every individual has the opportunity to instantly share their ideas with millions of people with the disappearance of these limits. Naturally, the scope and definition of the media and the ways of it influences socio-economic facts have also changed. In last decade, the effects of social media have seen in many socio-economic facts. The role of social media during the Arab Spring has been appraised as the new technologies are useful to motivate the public against the autocrats. Internet and digital social networks have mostly been regarded as increasing democratic values by allowing and improving communication channels between citizens and governments to increase civic participation, and to provide a public sphere for discussion of pertinent issues to have more inclusive processes of decision making (Kamp, 2016). However, the euphoria about the democratic benefits of social media did not last long and now there is a widespread concern that social media may undermine democracy and cause polarisation (Tucker et al., 2017).

There is a widespread concern that social media causes polarization in societies. It is necessary to understand the concept of new media and how social media works to relate this concern to internet. The main cause of polarisation is assumed to be the self-enforcing argumentation, as the internet can make it easy for people to move towards a more extreme position by facilitating the encounters to the arguments that support their views and can exclude any material that argues against their own views. Communication tools widely used on the internet suggest new ideas, new users and new websites to people through the algorithms they use. These recommendations are directly related to the ideas that the person likes or supports during the time spent on the internet. Sunstein (2017) describes that, people may end up in enclaves of like-minded people as in an “echo-chamber” on Internet. Sunstein (1999) prescribes this phenomenon to group polarisation, which takes hold when like-minded people talk to one another and end up thinking a more extreme version of what they thought before they started to talk. Group members may impose pressures on one another, leading to a consensus on falsehood rather than truth. Sunstein and Hastie (2008) argue that a group of like-minded people, with similar predilections are particularly vulnerable to this problem. Group polarisation arises when members of a deliberating group move towards a more extreme point in whatever direction is indicated by the members’ predeliberation tendency. People in the group may attach importance to the supportive sentences of group members instead of questioning their thoughts. This may cause the misconception that more repeated thoughts are true rather than truth. The main reasons for moving the group members to the extremist opinions are that: the group deliberation amplifies rather than corrects individual errors, people follow the statements and actions of their predecessors, and they emphasize shared information at the expense of unshared information (Sunstein and Hastie, 2008, p.2).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Extremism: A term used to express the opinions of individuals farthest from the centre on the right-left axis on a political issue. Individuals generally support the “left wing” or “right wing” in their political behaviour. This concept describes the attitude of individuals who support the right wing or the left wing as much as possible.

Cluster: It is defined as the groups formed by people with similar ideological beliefs on the internet.

Disinformation: It is a term that refers to the deliberate spreading of false information in order to influence the public or hide the truth. This false information can be used for propaganda.

Echo Chambers: A term described by Sunstien refers to a situation in which information and ideas are strengthened by repetition in the communication media. Repetitive ideas are generally accepted by the individual as undisputed. It arises as a result of the recommendation of new links similar to the content that individuals like in the internet environment.

Digital Literacy: A term refers to the ability to find, understand, analyze, produce, and share information through network devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers.

Usage Internet: It is a term used in the study to express the frequency of internet use of individuals. It does not cover how individuals spend their time on the Internet.

Fake News: A term refers to news content that is not based on any reliable source. It is not only spread due to a false belief, sensation, or knowledge, but also spread systematically to create a perception in the society. Recently, it has become widespread with the emergence of a new media on the Internet.

New Media: It expresses the concept of changing media as a result of communication platforms where every people have the potential to produce news, everyone interacts with each other and the costs of producing and sharing news are very low. It is a concept that explains the changing sources of news as search engines, blog sites, social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter have become a part of our daily life with the Web 2.0 revolution.

Political Polarisation: A term refers to the division of society into groups around two different ideas on any ideological subject that are sharply separated from each other. In this case, individuals do not be tolerant of opposing ideas, do not like spending time with individuals have opposing opinions, and they undoubtedly accept their own ideas as true.

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