Of Humans, Machines, and Extremism: The Role of Platforms in Facilitating Undemocratic Cognition

The events surrounding the 2020 U.S. election and the January 6 insurrection have challenged scholarly understanding of concepts like collective action, radicalization, and mobilization. In this article, we argue that online far-right radicalization is better understood as a form of distributed cognition, in which the groups’ online environment incentivizes certain patterns of behavior over others. Namely, these platforms organize their users in ways that facilitate a nefarious form of collective intelligence, which is amplified and strengthened by systems of algorithmic curation. In short, these platforms reflect and facilitate undemocratic cognition, fueled by affective networks, contributing to events like the January 6 insurrection and far-right extremism more broadly. To demonstrate, we apply this framing to a case study (the “Stop the Steal” movement) to illustrate how this framework can make sense of radicalization and mobilization influenced by undemocratic cognition.

Tags: 2020 U.S. election, far-right extremism, January 6, Stop the Steal