A Textbook Example of the Right's Epistemic Closure


After populating his Twitter feed with hundreds of conservatives, John Hinderaker concludes conservatives dominate the medium.

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On Twitter, I follow 308 feeds, and from what I see, it's exactly the sorts of people I follow that dominate the Twittersphere. Day after day, theirs are the most clever tweets I run across; when they draw attention to exchanges with outsiders they always seem to get the better of them. From my vantage it even seems like folks frustrated with both partisan teams are especially suited to the medium. 

John Hinderaker is on Twitter too. He follows 458 people. The vast majority are conservatives whose work he likes. And guess what? "The right is clobbering the left on Twitter," he writes. "Maybe it's because Twitter puts a premium on brevity and cleverness. I don't know. But for some reason, it seems to be a natural medium for conservatives." It would seem that way if the feed you curated included thousands of daily tweets from your favorite conservatives and only a handful from liberals, some of whom -- Snoop Dogg, for example -- you're probably following on a lark.

Says Hinderaker, "Currently, the White House is promoting #AskMichelle, where loyal Democrats can go to ask the First Lady a question. Only nearly all of the questions have come from conservatives." From this he concludes, "You almost feel sorry for the White House. They're going to have to either do a better job of mobilizing their supporters on Twitter, or abandon the medium altogether." 

As of writing, Barack Obama's official campaign Twitter account has 15,451,740 followers. Michelle Obama has 891,729 followers. I'm thinking they won't have to abandon the medium.

Musing on the supposed conservative Twitter advantage, Hinderaker adds: "We saw it when the Hilary Rosen interview ('Ann Romney never worked a day in her life') prompted a Twitterstorm. We saw it again when #ObamaEatsDogs exploded, and when #Julia blew up in the White House's face like an exploding cigar." Of course, Hinderaker only sees the successful conservative Twitter memes because they're the ones that circulate among the conservatives he follows. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has 499,989 Twitter followers, or roughly 15 million fewer than his opponent, and almost 400,000 fewer than his opponent's wife. Is it really so clear that "the left is getting clobbered on Twitter"?

Doug Mataconis points out that dominating Twitter and its memes is probably meaningless, even when it happens. He's probably right. But I still think Hinderaker's post is worth noting because it's such a perfect example of someone self-consciously curating an ideologically skewed information stream and then reflexively presuming that what they see there obviously reflects reality*.

Whereas the actual reality of who dominates Twitter is as follows:

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*For background, here is Julian Sanchez's original explanation of epistemic closure and a coda.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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