Social contagion is a theory about how certain new ideas and memes spread in society. For example "trans kids", or "I think I was born in the wrong body". Back before 2012 there were hardly any 'trans kids' anywhere. Two years later, in 2014, they are all over the internet. A new identify fashion bloomed for a certain kind of progressive youth - especially young women. Time and again, when these trans youths are interviewed, we find they developed their new identity online. In particular: often on Tumblr, within a closed group of like-minded peers.
Many people, such as Jonathan Haidt (see: The Righteous Mind) blame the Internet itself for social contagion, the growth of divisive ideas, and increasing political polarization in society.
What promotes extremism?
1. One implication is that the Internet divides us against each other because it enables polarized, extremist forums to propagate. For example: I was a member of at least one Internet forum which specifically excluded people based on arbitrary criteria. In particular I was a member of an energy discussion forum which excluded other people (who discussed energy, and wanted to join) on the basis that the other person was too republican, libertarian or not progressive enough!
Some people imply that the cure for social contagion is more Internet censorship and control. Presumably banning extremists will enable reasonable progressives to discuss among themselves to arrive at reasonable conclusions? [Many progressives certainly seem to act as if this were so!]
Contra to this growth in extremism argument, I say extremist groups have always existed and always will. Before the Internet we had physical discussion groups, clubs, societies, political parties.
With more internet censorship many critics of new ideas, such as 'trans kids' were censored and banned.
I think the point of "social contagion" is that the new meme being promoted often has a built-in censorship meme too. Consider GM corn with the Bt gene added - making it resistant to insects. Insects kill off wild competitors, so the GM plant quickly grows to become the dominant mono-culture on the farm (a good thing). Likewise with woke ideas. Censorship kills off competing ideas enabling a new idea to grow with nothing inhibiting it.
When we accept one of these woke memes we also accept the necessity to censor heterodox thinkers and non-believers; such censorship is part of the same package of ideas. Without censorship a bad meme cannot multiply as it will be exposed for the gibberish it almost always is. Censorship enables bad memes to quickly spread online.
Q: how is this censorship enabled?
A: Woke memes are often victim memes: "If we don't censor - terrible things will happen to victims". Hence the outlandish claims:
- words are violence
- people refuting woke are "hateful"
- those who don't want expensive renewable energy are DESTROYing the planet.
- those opposing race "equity" policies are "white supremacists", AKA racists (even when they're black!). Because woke is anti-racist, therefore everyone criticising woke must be anti- anti-racist, AKA: racist!
So Helen Joyce is right about defamation. The woke are intrinsically defamatory because defamation, and demonization of opponents is intrinsic to how these new extremist memes spread. Accusations of evil enable censorship, cancel culture and growth of irrational mono-cultures.
Unless I try to answer my own question I'll feel I've stolen your time. So, if my questions is how to we stop this extremist, censorious, cancel culture in society? I can only cite evidence in my life. I became far more rational after I studied philosophy. Learning all the isms didn't help: Marx, Freud, existentialism, pomo - did not help me. This did:
- Learning debating skills. Recognizing and avoiding philosophical fallacies
- Understanding evidence-based arguments; and how to recognize good and bad evidence; including good and bad statistical evidence. How to distinguish good from fake science.
- Advocating for free-speech.
These are the key skills a person must learn to become rational. Rationality is a skill; it's not an innate trait of humanity. You are not born rational. Begin with a book on philosphical fallacies. So that you can recognise when people who use them to promote their (bad) ideas. Prefer free-speech advocates, but we don't really care to give free-speech to pornographers but care for free speech when debating politics and social theory. We must support free-speech in general because we don't want judges and politicans deciding what to ban. That's why pornographers get free speech too. Recognize evidence. Learn basic scientific theory such that one understands what scientific laws are; and what makes a scientific theory. How such theories are validated and falsified by experiment and observation. Know basic statistics; enougth to know when statistics are misused. So: I'm giving no advice regarding politics, economics, social theory, human rights, nor even psychology. No need to learn any isms. A lot of advice regarding how to recognize and avoid bad arguments.