Is Social Media Broken?

Social media makes it easy to be polarizing. Black or White, Yes or No, Republican or Democrat. Often, there is little room for nuance, context and thoughtful discourse. As the “virtual” iteration of who we are, social media often gives us a one-dimensional look at ourselves and our “friends.”

Let’s look at an example. Sue may have expressed support for Hillary Clinton on her Facebook page. To many, that one “thing” about Sue can tell you many other things about her (she is pro-choice, believes in climate change, believes in social services for the advancement of society — and other long held liberal “tenants.”). Bob, who voted for Donald Trump, may look at Sue and think that they have absolutely nothing in common. But is that really correct? Can one singular piece of information about you really define who you are as a person? Of course not.

Because Sue voted for Hillary Clinton and Bob voted for Donald Trump, do their lives and values converge at all? Does it show that Sue is a member of her local PTA? That she plays tennis twice a week? She fosters dogs? She loves to read biographies? No. In Bob’s case, maybe he’s into gardening, owns 2 cats, and likes biographies. So while social media may show that these two people have seemingly nothing in common, it’s clear that they actually have a few things in common (love of animals and biographies).

The structure of social media is broken. It fosters more division than it does community. Sure Sue can go out and find other people on Facebook who voted for Hillary Clinton — but she would have to join groups and actively search them out. Social media doesn’t allow for additional discovery about ourselves and our community. While it may have started out as a community builder, what it has become is really a wall builder, building up silos group by group with no other means of commonality or communication between them.

We’re not the only ones to see this. There has been a groundswell polarization and social media for some time. Given the use of social media and its impact on our recent election, we expect to see much more about this in the year to come. Here are a few other articles of interest:

https://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/social-media/facebook-political-polarization-data-science-research

http://bigthink.com/wikimind/youre-being-polarized-how-social-media-strengthens-your-beliefs-good-bad

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/08/technology/facebook-study-disputes-theory-of-political-polarization-among-users.html

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