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The Cognitive Science of Extremist Ideologies Online

by   Chloe Perry, et al.
Carnegie Mellon University

Extremist ideologies are finding new homes in online forums. These serve as both places for true believers, and recruiting-grounds for curious newcomers. To understand how newcomers learn ideology online, we study the Reddit archives of a novel sexist ideology known as the "the Red Pill”. Matching a longstanding hypothesis in the social sciences, our methods resolve the ideology into two components: a "behavioral” dimension, concerned with correcting behavior towards the self and others, and an "explanatory” dimension, of unifying explanations for the worldview. We then build a model of how newcomers to the group navigate the underlying conceptual structure. This reveals a large population of "tourists”, who leave quickly, and a smaller group of "residents” who join the group and remain for orders of magnitude longer. Newcomers are attracted by the behavioral component, in the form of self-help topics such as diet, exercise, and addiction. Explanations, however, keep them there, turning tourists into residents. They have powerful effects: explanation adoption can more than double the duration of median engagement, and can explain the emergence of a long-tail of high-power engagers. The most sticky explanations, that predict the longest engagement, are about status hierarchies.


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