Kind of Philosophy: Right wing echo chambers

Are we moving towards epistemic Armageddon?

Image by: Herbert Wang
Echo chambers and political malignance.

Last week, thousands of conspiratorially prone Canadians marched in front of government buildings across the nation in the name of “parental rights.”

This movement brought familiar patterns: Canadian flags on hockey sticks, signs with poor grammar, pickup trucks honking their horns, and, of course, religiosity.

Like the Freedom Convoy and broader movement before it, the 1 Million March 4 Children (1MM4C) was populated by Canadians protesting from a deeply misinformed position. This time, one misinformed position, among others, was that school curricula which include LGBTQ+ perspectives are grooming children.

To understand how this happens, we can turn to a useful distinction made by philosopher C. Thi Nguyen between epistemic bubbles and echo chambers.

Epistemic bubbles exclude other voices from the conversation, whereas echo chambers actively discredit other voices.

Most social media users are plausibly ‘trapped’ in individualized versions of the former. Given the power of algorithms, it’s likely individual feeds include only a very narrow set of views which the user finds agreeable. Users, therefore, only see views included in their bubble.

Echo chambers, on the other hand, make explicit claims about other voices. Consider how this might take shape in conspiratorial right-wing movements like the 1MM4C: the LGBTQ+ community isn’t excluded from the picture as they might be in an epistemic bubble—rather, they’re labelled untrustworthy and hostile.

It might be helpful to think of epistemic bubbles as exclusionary, and echo chambers as inclusionary but deceptive. This inclusionary but deceptive strategy can be seen in the rhetoric of 1MM4C protestors. In one video, a man yells into a microphone, saying “we will not let you take [our children] from us.” The LGBTQ+ community is aimed at, and thus included in the echo chamber, but they are, in this case, alleged to be part of a group who, are trying to take children away from their parents.

The website for the 1MM4C claims their goal is to protect children from indoctrination and sexualization. Again, opposing voices aren’t excluded from the picture. Instead, they play an important role in organizing protestors around a common enemy.

Supporting groups, which are listed on that same website, exhibit a similar pattern. Stand United BC, for instance, lists under ‘coming action’ a movement called The Media is the Virus. Note again how opposing voices—this time ‘the media’—are discredited instead of excluded.

The organizer of the 1MM4C, Mahmoud Mourra, has reposted TikTok videos on his page with captions such as “another stupid teacher.” In another post, he claims “the majority of fake politicians in this country divided us into groups to put their hands on our kids.”

By now you might see a pattern emerging—namely, that of an echo chamber. The “other” group is always included, but they’re included in a dishonest and deceptive way.

This is how movements like the 1MM4C come to protest from a misinformed position.

What’s more, while the 1MM4C was organized by a Canadian citizen of orthodox religious affiliation, susceptibility to these movements is interesting and useful for entities outside of Canada.

RT, a Russian state-sponsored news network which pedals Kremlin and Kremlin-aligned talking points, was very interested in the 2022 Freedom Convoy which gridlocked downtown Ottawa.

One report by Caroline Orr Bueno, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland, concluded there was Russian involvement in the 2022 Freedom Convoy.

The same Russian troll farms that influenced the 2016 American election have allegedly contributed to social media content on Justin Trudeau and Canadian oil infrastructure dating as far back as 2018.

To understand the phenomena of state-sponsored mis and disinformation campaigns and how it might play a role in our domestic troubles, it might help us to look at the U.S., where evidence abounds for widespread, intentional plotting by foreign troll farms to this day.

One report from the MIT Technology Review found that troll farms reached 140 million Americans per month on Facebook before the 2020 election. As of October 2019, these troll farms were responsible for content on 15,000 pages with a majority American audience.

What’s more, these pages are, in some cases, very popular. The most popular Christian American page in 2019, though no longer active, was 20 times bigger than the second most popular Christian American page at that time—and it was run by troll farms.

Canadian movements like the 1MM4C often have Christian support as well. Groups like Crusaders of the Resistance, whose aim is to “prove bible prophecy,” were listed as sponsors for the 1MM4C. A connection between Evangelical Christianity and the 2022 Freedom Convoy has also been drawn, with supporters toting Bible verses on their signs and t-shirts, as they were at Kingston’s 1MM4C protest too. And, as you might recall, the Freedom Convoy raised over $9 million USD through GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfunding site.

There are interesting things to be said about the susceptibility of intolerant religious believers to other non-sensical ideas.

It’s concerning Canadian movements have been informed by troll farms. The demographics of these movements reflect the demographics of U.S. citizens who have proven useful fodder for dis-and misinformation campaigns by state-sponsored bad actors.

Equipped with this knowledge, it’s important we be vigilant when consuming digital media, especially divisive content which resembles an echo chamber. The historical record shows this content might be intentionally divisive—so, if you encounter content online which doesn’t exclude other voices but actively discredits them, consider thinking twice before downloading the good-bad binary being promoted. It’s always inaccurate, but sometimes malignant and intentional too.


culture wars, echo chambers, Freedom Convoy, philosophy

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