Social media ‘echo chambers’ radicalize people and make them more likely to turn violent

Thousands of Donald Trump supporters storm the United States Capitol following a “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Protesters stormed the historic building, smashing windows and clashing with police. Trump supporters gathered today in the nation’s capital to protest against the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. ( Social media ‘echo chambers’ can be a place of ideological reinforcement for some, as their morals match that of everyone else in the group. However, a new study reveals that these places online also lead to radicalization.

Researchers at the University of Southern California say that members of online communities whose opinions consistently receive positive reinforcement from others are also more likely to turn violent. Understanding how some people radicalize online has become a priority for the security services, especially since the storming of the United States Capitol on January 6.

Today, scientists have determined the type of language people at risk of radicalization use in their messages, some of which may be ready to die defending their group’s values.

“In our research, we find that the more people are in morally homogeneous environments, the more likely they are to resort to radical means to defend themselves and their values,” says study author Dr Mohammad Atari. , in a press release.

Examine the incels in the “bubble”

Researchers examined more than 25 million Internet posts on Gab, a social media network that typically attracts far-right users, including voices like Richard Spencer and Alex Jones. They found that users were more likely to use derogatory language against other groups if their posts aligned with others on Gab.

In another study, the team analyzed 900,000 posts from an online community on Reddit, created for people who identify as “unintentional singles.” Incels are people who are generally unable to attract a romantic or sexual partner despite the desire to have one, and frequently post hateful or violent comments about the opposite sex.

Also in this study, researchers find that people who think their views match those of a larger group are more likely to radicalize.

“People who find themselves in a ‘bubble’ – so to speak – in which their ideas, beliefs and values ​​are strongly reinforced, might continue to form a visceral bond with their in-group,” says Dr Atari. “In these situations, people can engage in drastic acts in defense of their in-group, the intensity of which ranges from an indignant tweet to an attack on a federal building. “

A place where no one disagrees is “not a good environment”

The study’s authors conducted three more studies to see if tricking people into believing that their group, whether made up or real, shared the same moral views would increase their radical intentions. Participants who felt their views were supported by their peers were “much more likely” to display radical behavior to protect and, to a lesser extent, fight or die for the group.

The team notes that their data comes primarily from people inside the United States and may not reflect a global trend.

“What I am most convinced of is putting you in an extremely homogeneous environment in which no one disagrees with your values, or does not applaud yourself! even radicalize you.

The results are published in the journal Social psychology and personality sciences.

South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

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