Newswise — As Congress continues to investigate the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, psychologists are examining how online communities can foster radical thoughts and intentions. New research in Social Psychological and Personality Science reports that social media echo chambers can create a strong bond and increase the likelihood of radicalization.
“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 lead author Dr. Mohammad Atari.
The first study examined posts on Gab, a social media network which has attracted far-right users, including voices like Richard Spencer and Alex Jones. Studying nearly 25 million English-language posts, researchers found that the more a user’s language aligned with the group’s morals, the more likely they were to use hateful, derogatory language toward outgroups.
Researchers replicated these findings by examining over 900,000 posts in an online community on Reddit known as “Incels,” founded for people who identify as “involuntary celibates” and frequently post hateful violent comments about women.
“People who find themselves in a “bubble” — so to speak — wherein their ideas, beliefs, and values are strongly reinforced, could go on to form a visceral bond with their ingroup,” says Dr. Atari. “In these situations, people might engage in radical acts to defend their ingroup, ranging in intensity from an outrage-filled tweet to attacking a federal building.”
In three additional studies, researchers explored whether leading people to believe that their hypothetical or real group (such as nationality) shared their moral views would increase their radical intentions.
Researchers found that participants who believed they were part of a group who shared their values were much more likely to display radical intentions to protect and, to a lesser extent, fight or die for the group.
Dr. Atari notes that this data was primarily collected from participants in the United States and discourages over-generalization of the findings to non-U.S. populations until the research can be replicated in different cultures. He notes that more research is needed on the role of moral diversity in people’s social media feeds before having a better understanding of how and how much moral diversity works.
“What I am more convinced of is that putting yourself in an extremely homogeneous environment wherein nobody disagrees with your values, or cheers ‘hell yeah!’, is not a great environment to be in,” says Dr. Atari, “and it might even radicalize you.”