Internet/Telecom/Social Media

Tea Party Community: a league of their own

There’s a teaching in communications psychology called “selective perception” and “selective retention,” which theorizes that two people with opposing viewpoints could watch the same news report or movie, and only hear and retain things that reinforce their own views. So for example, two people watching the same presidential debate could walk away remembering very different things: the Democrat would remember President Obama’s plans to expand health care, and the Republican would remember Mitt Romney’s plan to create jobs and bring down the deficit.

The theory holds true for cable television as well, with stations like MSNBC catering to the left-leaning news consumers, and Fox News catering to those on the right (the ones who claim to be “fair and balanced”).

Now, that theory extends even to social media. Meet Tea Party Community, the conservative Facebook.

The welcome/sign up page features the “Don’t Tread on Me.” Sample posts feature Obama holding screws with the caption “Free Obamacare suppositories,” and a photo of guns saying “My guns won’t be illegal, they will be undocumented. SHARE IF YOU AGREE!”

A note at the top of the forum apologizes for tech issues and wrongful banning from the forum with the following message:

Because we have doubled our membership count since our national launch,  we have been under severe attack by large hacking and troll groups which has caused discord for our managment team and  members alike. These groups despise what we stand for and seek to destroy us and silence our voice.

First off, we would like to apologize to our members that have had their accounts accidentally banned by our automated controls and fake reports to our moderation staff. We have now tuned our moderation software and have opted instead to let “You the TPC member” to help us keep our community troll free. We are also placing trusted members in moderator position to help accomplish this task.

The site looks a lot like an earlier version of Facebook (you know, the one everyone knew how to use before the revamps) and seems to be more open to strangers commenting on and liking posts and statuses than its predecessor – while you can friend other users on the TPC, any TPC user (friend or not) can comment on your posts and activity.

And the language used in its explanation of banning – referring to “trolls” and “silencing our voice” – has the site playing social media victim, as if other social networking sites don’t allow them to voice their opinions. But clearly, this is a community of proud conservatives creating their own forum for sharing their own ideas outside of an Internet they consider to be too liberal/reality based.

From the outside world, this looks like a crazy aberration of gun-toting, Jesus-loving “Keep the government out of my life and send the President back to Kenya” individuals who are tired of their liberal friends commenting on their Facebook statuses. And it is. But it goes beyond that. This community was designed as a “safe space,” for people to be as conservative as they want, to keep out “trolls,” meaning anyone with a differing opinion. It was designed as a self-feeding bubble of a site, to keep the conservative views of its users insulated. It’s very much the Fox News of social media.

Of course the Tea Party would start its own social media page, because the rest of the world is too left-leaning to accept. It ties back into the idea of “selective perception” and “selective retention,” where even if these Internet users stuck to Facebook like the rest of the world, they would most likely ignore posts that do not agree with their point of view anyway. Rather than accepting reality, they substitute their own.

I’m interested to see the future of this online community, and whether it evolves into a full-fledged tool for connecting like-minded people for grassroots causes or campaign purposes for Tea Party candidates, or if it fizzles out. Right now, the page seems like too much of a hodgepodge to truly organize – it’s a lot of angry people who want to keep their guns, put God back in the White House, bash Karl Rove for silencing Tea Party candidates, stop illegal immigration, and post a lot of really offensive racist and sexist content to the delight of racist and sexist internet users. Really, at this point, the TPC is just preaching to the choir and reinforcing the bubble that the Tea Party seems to live in. Whether or not this community will grow beyond discontent and ignorance is yet to be seen, but I have a feeling it will see the same rise and fall as the Tea Party has over the next few months.

16 replies »

  1. My sister in law visited a Tea Party event in her home county a few years ago and found that Tea Partiers were nice people who tended to scared, be dealing with future shock, and uneducated/ignorant. The problem is that confirmation bias and motivated reasoning being what they are, it’s difficulty to convince someone that they’re scared for no reason, or that they’re ignorant of the facts when they think they already know all the facts.

  2. to understand the teaparty movement you must at least look at it with an open mind. i am on the teaparty community and can tell you the only racist bigotted post are from trolls. they like to sign up for an account and then post ridiculous stuff so that idiots like you report it to the world. i have to give them credit though, its obviously working. fact is as soon as anything racist is posted it is called out by hundreds of true constitutionalist teaparty members and then removed as soon as possible. so if we were so racist why would so many quickly point out the liberal troll and report the post. i know this doesnt fit into your agenda, sorry.

  3. This is more of a problem than we like to believe–the whole cocooning thing the far right does with its own media, home schooling and “universities” like Patrick Henry, creates an alternate universe where weak-minded people can be convinced to do horrible things. It’s the same thing as the radical madrassas turning out suicide bombers. We watch shows like Doomsday Preppers and laugh, until a prepper shoots up a school in Connecticutt or kills a bus driver in Alabama. Twenty years from now, we will see a wave of Timothy McVeigh’s, and silly, paranoid, insular things like this will be the cause. I know there are far worse websites and chat rooms out there–my idiot Texas nephew is on them–but this stuff is funny-but-scary. Yeah, I guess I’m paranoid too, but as the old saying goes, it doesn’t mean I’m not right.

  4. I love non-problem problems.

    The idea that one is ‘insulated’ from the outside world because one of a half-dozen tabs is on a social media site that favors one political persuasion is easily the most inane equivocation I have heard today. The idea that one can be ‘insular’ on the internet, of all places, is simply wrong. Quite literally, a world of information is clicks away. Visiting a site that panders to a certain persuasion, which is the internet’s reason for existence in the first place, does not create an insular lifestyle in any sense.

    One can certainly avoid certain sites, and create some sort of self-insulation, yet that is not different than anyone visiting any other site.

    “You motorcycle lovers and your websites devoted to Harleys; clearly you’re just denying the legitimacy and reality of Honda by visiting! –No, I don’t care if you have a Honda, you’re website visiting says enough.”

    If the convuluted and deluded logic of this post was used for my own internet habits *I* would be living in an insular world. For, you see, I declined some friends on Facebook the other day. I blocked some spambots from WordPress. Clearly, by creating an environment that panders to my own views (like some friends I don’t want to be friends with, and some spambots whose contribution I do not appreciate) I am… Denying reality? Reinforcing my bubble? Part of a large, right-wing conspiracy to silence other voices? (“First they came for the spambots but I did not cry out because I was not a spambot. Then they came for the annoying friend-whores, but I did not cry out…”)

    Is that what I’m doing?

    Or, for that matter, isn’t all of America part of some sort of nefarious, walling off of reality? For it is on social media where I have control of ads, connections (e.g. friends), search results, content (et al) all the while managing how that content is presented to me in a way that is unimaginable to those first internet participants.

    Dear Lord! Are we all right-wing extremists who reject the left-leaning world?

    If that conclusion sounds preposterous, it’s because your premises are.

    • Fantastic reply…It amazes me that the left does exactly the same thing they accuse the right of doing, but they can’t accept it. Yes, the Tea Party has a lot of problems, and some of the members are racist. But that is NOT all that’s there. I am a gun toting, 2nd amendment, Constitutional loving southern woman…I really do want this country to be great and strong….I believe in separation of church and state, but not to protect the government, but to protect the individual from the government, because THAT was how it was set up whether the left admits it or not. Yes, I’m afraid…but I believe that because I DO read, and I DO use the internet, I have reason to be afraid. Ok…I believe that the LEFT is the side that is deluded and ridiculous…They are COMPLETELY out of touch with reality…Educated idiots are what comes to mind. I’m off my podium now….

      • anti-EDUCATION is part of THE problem, ginger. i’ll bet twenty bucks you havent read the constitution front to back. constitution-loving is code for ignorant white. i’m from waycross, georgia, i speak the code. if you really loved the constitution, you’d be a progressive.

        • …plenty of educated people believe in so-called “Communist” ideals. I just don’t think the ideas that the Tea Party considers to be “Communist” are. If providing more people with health care, opportunities for education, voting rights, and the ability to make their own decisions is socialist, then I can’t say I complain.

          What I was trying to do with this post was use the TPC as an example of the increasing amount of political and media polarization taking place – an the self-manufactured insulation that both right and left are creating. I was harsh on the TPC and the Tea Party in general because I don’t agree with their politics or the way they seem to claim to support people’s constitutional rights but in practice deny these rights to women, minorities, and the poor. Forgive me for being so harsh, but it’s difficult to support a party like the the Tea Party when their “socialist opponents” are so much more reasonable.

      • But see, you have the same problem as the Left. You want the country to be great and strong but it must be great and strong in the manner you believe defines great and strong. Your statement on separation of church and state is nonsensical. The state, theoretically at least, is the people as a collection of individuals. It was set up to protect against the formation of a state religion (which kind of suggests that those deified founders weren’t so Christian after all). A state religion would likely infringe on individual rights assuming that there will be non-Christian individuals.

        In any case, as a “Constitutional loving southern woman” i can only assume that you hated George W Bush’s abuses of that sacred document every bit as much as you hate Obama’s. I assume that you refused to vote for him in 2004 based on the vast gulf between your love for the Constitution and his.

        I also assume that your love for the Constitution makes you pro-choice, because the only reason for banning abortion is based on a religious foundation. You believe in separation of church and state to protect the individual, so enacting religion based laws that infringe upon individual liberty via the state must be an anathema to you.

        I’m gonna be real disappointed if i find out that you supported Bush throughout because he was better than Kerry or if you rest your opposition to abortion on attempting to define a small collection of cells as a human because there’s a rather shoddy interpretation of a single New Testament passage about Jesus as a fetus. Please don’t disappoint me. I really want to believe that you are that much better than the Left.

    • I get your point, but somewhere I read a study on the media viewed by left and right wing, and the right wing tended to only look at reinforcing media while the left looked at a broader spectrum. There’s a reason right wing radio is a torrent and progressive radio is just a trickle, and it’s not that there are more right wing drivers out there. It’s because right wingers feel besieged, hence the “Don’t tread on me” flags, the bunker-building, and the creation of pseudo-education systems, home schooling, charter schools, and faux universities to only teach the “right” information.

      No, one internet site does not prove insularity, but neither does the very existence of diversity on the internet prove that Tea Party members avail themselves of that diversity. I am not a left winger by any means, particularly on economic issues. And I have lots of right wing friends–I’m a southerner in business, so lots and lots and lots of right wing friends. Those on the near right listen to a range of media that is slanted to the right, but no more slanted than the mainstream media is to the left. But once you get to the Tea Party and the far rightists, they tend to only listen to very biased media. It is fair to call them insular.

  5. Apparently unlike amyclae, the niche websites i frequent that aren’t political generally enforce “no politics” rules. The good niche websites that don’t have those rules tend to have an intelligent enough audience that it isn’t an issue. And, really, if i’m reading/writing about old BMWs, car culture, or college football, i could give a flying fuck about who the other people voted for.

    Still, not a bad stab at reductio ad absurdum.

    I’m with Otherwise, it’s funny and really scary all rolled into one. The conservatives are quite a bit scarier than the liberals, but the latter are not immune to this phenomenon. I just can’t see myself wading through a comment thread at the Daily Kos, and have certainly seen myriad examples of liberals who managed to convince themselves that Obama’s a really great guy. Why, i hear that someone on MSNBC tonight said that progressives have gotten everything they want from Obama.

    My concern is that the phenomena discussed by Alex suggest that we’re an ignorant (actual meaning, yo), frightened people who need the comfort of an insular and unchallenged world view. In that, we’re probably not a damn bit different than all the other people who’ve come before us. It is only disturbing that we like to think of ourselves as evolved, and as Americans some sort of keepers of truth, justice, and democracy … however we individually define those three things.

  6. The author implies that those from the right ignore opinions that are not their own as if the left is any different. I have seen the most hateful ignorant things come from both sides, but both sides turn a blind eye to their own hypocrisy. I hate when people apply stereotypes to a political party as if there were only two types of politically-aligned people. The constant trolling attacks on the site should be an indication that even leftists can do stupid things.

    • Jonathan: When I see comments like this, I immediately think “false equivalence.” No doubt the left has its flaws, but hatefulness tends not to be among them. And when it does happen, it’s the exception. With the right, it’s too often the rule. So, can you show us some of this left-wing hate? And I don’t mean rage over the hatefulness on the right, either. I mean actual hate, as in racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry and so on.

  7. I participated over at Tea Party Community for a couple of weeks. I displayed a firm but fair attitude along with being polite and offering gentle humor. My discovery is, my opinion is Tea Party Community is a front organization for a white supremacy group headed by Ken Crow.

    This is unfortunate, our family casually knows Ken Crow through rodeo riding events over a couple of decades. Crow was around back when rodeo nationals were held in our home state, Oklahoma. Seems to be a nice man but his Tea Party Community and behaviors displayed by participants reveals a truth we would rather not have discovered.

    Okpulot Taha – Choctaw Nation