We Like What We Like and Want What We Want: Polarization and Isolation in Social Media

Social Media Connects…and Divides

In a practical and effective way, social media hones in on our desire to belong, share and connect. We are able to peer into others’ interests, compare this information with our beliefs, and make a decision whether we want to connect. This is called homophily, and my previous blog highlights more ways people are driven to connect (Burge, 2017). Overall, engaging with others on social media can be a positive experience. There is so much information to skim, and so many people with whom to both connect and share. However, the reasons people connect based on similar views could be the same way people distance themselves from those they disagree with. This is because social media has made it easy for people to sequester themselves based on what they choose to believe, making the social media experience skewed (Fernbach and Sloman, 2017). Rather than being open to new ideals, belief systems and information, people begin to filter what they accept as truth. This is called polarization, and the alarming rate this happens should give everyone pause (Uzzi, 2016).

“We Thought You Might Like…”

One of the things that contributes to polarization is the use of social media algorithms. Simply put, when a person shares a particular interest, or clicks on an article about certain information, they are almost immediately given similar content to look into. This also happens through advertisements after purchases. Unfortunately, negative content that piques interest also generates algorithms. Violent, sexual, propaganda, religious, activism and even scientific theory videos and articles will cause similar content to populate based on this method. Confirmation bias, prejudices, and core beliefs influence how readers accept information (Goldhill, 2017). In fact, these behaviors and attitudes combined with social media causing only strengthen the possibility of isolation.

Combatting Isolation and Polarization

The best way to prevent polarization is to always remain objective when looking into information. If the information triggers emotion, or is similar to core beliefs, do not be afraid to counter it with more information posing an alternate view. Another way to ensure prevention of isolation is to check the sources (Kiely and Robertson, 2016). Making sure the information is valid and from a trusted source will help readers remain objective about what they read, like, click, and share. There are even more interesting ways to help step outside the box on social media. The Washington Post published an article on several apps that can be used to break the confirmation bias shell, thereby grasping new and fresh information (Chandler, 2017).


Burge, L. (2017). Connection is Key: Homophily and Social Media. Medium. Retrieved 5 August 2017, from https://medium.com/@lburge1/connection-is-key-homophily-and-social-media-1a8cf21b4e0f

Chandler, M. (2017). Feeling stuck in your social media bubble? Here’s the latest in a growing class of apps designed to help. Washington Post. Retrieved 5 August 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/04/18/feeling-stuck-in-your-social-media-bubble-heres-the-newest-of-in-a-growing-class-of-apps-designed-to-help/?utm_term=.2f1ce2add594

Fernbach, P., & Sloman, S. (2017). Why We Believe Obvious Untruths. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 5 August 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/opinion/sunday/why-we-believe-obvious-untruths.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share&_r=0

Goldhill, O. (2017). Humans selectively edit reality before accepting it, a review of decades of behavior shows. Quartz. Retrieved 5 August 2017, from https://qz.com/941817/humans-selectively-edit-reality-before-accepting-it-a-review-of-decades-of-social-and-economic-behavior-shows/

Kiely, E., & Robertson, L. (2016). How to Spot Fake News. FactCheck.org. Retrieved 5 August 2017, from http://cf.factcheck.org/2016/11/how-to-spot-fake-news/

Uzzi, B. (2016). The Surprising Speed with Which We Become Polarized Online. Kellogg Insight. Retrieved 5 August 2017, from https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/the-surprising-speed-with-which-we-become-polarized-online