August 10, 2021 - 2:39pm

The 2010s were the decade of social media-led revolution. In the Arab world, Facebook helped to spread uprisings which overturned the old order, leading to success in Tunisia, failure in Egypt and tragedy in Syria.

In the US, social media has had almost as big an impact, with American progressive opinion undergoing a rapid shift from about 2013 – whereas the average conservative has changed very little.

It means that Americans on the Left now have self-declared views on race that are more pro-black and pro-immigrant than actual black Americans or immigrants, despite having generally quite ill-informed ideas about race.

Perhaps that’s related to the frequency they read about the issue, illustrated by a recent paper, which looks at media coverage of “prejudice related terms”. The study found the words “racist or sexist increasing in usage between 2010 and 2019 by 638% and 403% in The New York Times or 514% and 141% respectively in The Washington Post.” (This is a percentage of all words in those publications).

Frequency of words denoting prejudice in NYT and Washington Post. Credit: David Rozado

The paper also found that this process long predated Trump and that in 2014: “The usage of words denoting racism, homophobia, transphobia or sexism were at or near, up to that year, all-time highs. These results suggest that the trend of increasing prevalence of prejudice related words in media discourse precedes the political emergence of Donald Trump — although Trump’s presidency and subsequent reactions to it may have exacerbated these trends.”

Centrist outlets were least likely to use these terms, presumably because Right-wing websites spend so much of their time Owning the Libs and responding to the R-word, while centrist publications are busy focusing on unimportant stuff like climate change and people having enough food to eat.

The paper, like Zach Goldberg’s work in similar areas, points to a seismic shift in American liberal opinion from about 2013, a change in worldview almost without precedent; even during the 1960s and 70s public opinion changed quite slowly in western countries, and in Britain the basic premises of the sexual revolution weren’t accepted by the majority until well into the 1990s.

This is a form of runaway progressivism, driven by status anxiety, and it is usually attributed to social media and the iPhone, which encourages clickbait and dopamine-producing culture war content.

The shifting political position of upper-middle class Americans and the proliferation of prejudice-related words are obviously not unrelated, and presumably the causal arrow goes both ways. A radicalised population demands more morally-affirming condemnation of the sinners, but the proliferation of prejudice words pushes people into more radical political positions.

Prejudice words are hugely effective at making political positions toxic if they successfully attach to them, and the strategy is probably aided by simple repetition (just as religions often use repetition to install an idea in people’s heads). Contrary to what we’d like to believe, shouting “racist” is a pretty effective argument.

Part of the cultural imbalance between Left and Right is due to the fact that the mind of the former is effectively vaccinated against conservative ideas; once anything has a prejudice word attached to it, the mind’s ideological immune system is able to dismiss it; it recognises it as something dangerous and malign, and probably Nazi, before shutting it down. It’s why conservatives so frequently respond to bad progressive arguments by insisting that their idea is actually the more racist or sexist — lib-owning which only confirms the oppositions’ basic premises. Conservatives, in contrast, have few terms with which to disarm opposing ideas, and you can’t the battle of ideas when your opponents literally write the dictionary.

Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable