As social media begins to continually grow within the U.S. so will the trends of increasing polarization.
Everybody wants to feel like they’re not alone. Whether this is in regards to political beliefs, hobbies or even daily life everybody wishes to find someplace where they truly belong. If an individual cannot find fulfillment for this need naturally they will turn to other methods. As a result, it comes to no great surprise that as technology continually develops so does the presence of social media within the community. In fact, according to Statista in 2021 about 82% of individuals within the United States had some format of social media. Furthermore, this percentage shows steady linear growth with no projections that this trend will stop anytime soon. When originally releasing Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg envisioned his product as a platform to further unite individuals with a sense of community. Nevertheless, it appears that social media actually becomes an outlet which causes more polarity. As stated by Jonathan Haidt in his Atlantic article, “Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three.” Though based in good intentions, social media causes for more polarization by creating echo chambers, causing a false sense of acceptance and further radicalizing positions.
Firstly, through social media one can find a group of like minded individuals in regards to any topic whatsoever. This can go all the way from gardening to an organization in favor of further enhancing gun laws. Continuing, rather than seeking out differing points of view many people choose to stick with communities which share thought patterns. Why go out of your way to find people to argue with? Though comforting, this causes for no circulation of ideas which the very basis of government was founded upon. Furthermore, one’s personal beliefs are continually regurgitated to them regardless of correctness or not. This further drives in the original ideology as individuals continually hear no objections or complaints. To expand, if every single individual one interacts with continually agrees with the ideas at some point they will become hammered in as truth. This practice not only leads to a limited perspective but causes for the aforementioned polarization as what may have started as a small opinion eventually solidifies into an unbreakable belief.
Similarly, social media allows for a sense of false acceptance no matter how wrong or dangerous the idea may be. For example, if one was to actively look today they would have no struggle in easily accessing multiple anti-vaccination or terrorism groups. By being fostered into a community which readily accepts anyone creates this dangerous thought process where one believes that his standpoint is okay. That this individual is not alone and there are many people who share in this plight. Even if the idea is fundamentally terrible it becomes difficult to decipher truth when continually being accepted for lies.
Finally, as many individuals are aware, social media is founded on the backbone of algorithms. In order to gain more traction one must simply cause more engagement with the content they decide to publish. This practice causes for the continual pushing of more radical positions as this creates controversies and generates “clicks.” To further illustrate this point, simply look at how titles are selectively written amongst social media. It doesn’t matter if the information within the article or content is true, all that matters is getting that original click. As a result, individuals become extremely incentivized to publish extreme positions as this becomes the main method of success and revenue.
Nevertheless, one cannot deny the ability that social media has in connecting individuals. In fact, it has given individuals the opportunity to connect to anyone regardless of location. Though this argument stands, as with many things in life everything comes at a cost. At some point one must assess the benefits and consequences in determining whether social media is truly a force for good. Whether connection within the community is worth the potential for increasing polarization.
In conclusion, as technology develops so do the means in which individuals can connect to one another. Nevertheless, this practice proves slightly counterintuitive as it promotes more polarization in beliefs. This is due to the very nature of social media which enhances the creation of echo chambers (circulation and regurgitation of like minded ideas). Furthermore, any form of belief is accepted regardless of correctness or truth. Finally, social media further compels extremism as this is what generates traction. Social media becomes a double edged sword which has the potential to bring individuals together or further cause division. As most things in life, the question stems from how exactly are you going to use it?
Haidt, Jonathan. “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 25 May 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/05/social-media-democracy-trust-babel/629369/.
“U.S. Is Polarizing Faster than Other Democracies, Study Finds.” Brown University, https://www.brown.edu/news/2020-01-21/polarization.
Published by Statista Research Department, and Mar 23. “Social Media Usage in U.S.” Statista, 23 Mar. 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/273476/percentage-of-us-population-with-a-social-network-profile/.
“*Photo by Aman Pal, “Social Media logo Render in CYCLES” (Unsplash), Creative Commons Zero License.”