politics

The truth is out there, but it’s increasingly hard to distinguish from lies | Torsten Bell


The Batley and Spen byelection is over. Coverage of Kim Leadbeater’s win focuses on the boost for Keir Starmer’s leadership. But its immediate impact is to get George Galloway off our TV screens.

A tale of viral videos from the campaign illustrates the dangers people like Galloway pose. A widely shared one shows a Galloway supporter shouting at Kim Leadbeater in the street. Twitter users praised her dignified response, given the echoes of the political extremism that led to her sister’s murder.

But it is a video of someone trying to create another video. The man shouting wanted content to play to fears that schools would expose children to ideas about homosexuality.

This is where culture wars take our politics. Most of us worry about the divides that follow, but economists also worry that this makes their work less relevant. Some have responded by using economics to understand social media. A good recent example explains how we want to share truth but end up sharing misinformation.

Online bubbles mean there’s less chance of us being called out for sharing misinformation, weakening the incentive to fact-check things ourselves or, for example, thinking we can share homophobia without being called out. Social media companies have incentives to make this worse with algorithms designed to maximise engagement, encouraging echo chambers for extremist content. The tools of economics can help us understand this nightmare, but it’s on all of us to sort it out.

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