General Question

flutherother's avatar

Are social media to blame for the polarisation of political opinion?

Asked by flutherother (28814points) May 19th, 2018

I often see video clips and comments on my FaceBook timeline with political content that tends to reinforce my liberal beliefs. I have come to dislike these as shallow and manipulative but they have an emotional content that is hard to dismiss. Is this phenomenon helping to drive the polarisation in American politics? Does everyone receive these unsolicited political messages?

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23 Answers

Darth_Algar's avatar

No, Faux Newz and its ilk are.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Yes we all receive messages pandering to and reinforcing our point of view. But the polarization is much about the rise of extremism and a corresponding decline in the mitigating levels of rational thought. There is also the corresponding geographical polarization as the hinterlands are abandoned to dessertification and the ravages of talk radio.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Fox News and then internet blogs were first. Social media made it worse.

I used to say most of the electorate only knew what they saw on TV. Now it’s TV plus Facebook.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I see it as something that was taken advantage of. Not in, and of itself a problem. Bit I think similarly about guns. I see them as a tool, that when misused can be very destructive…

Bill1939's avatar

I agree with @MrGrimm888, the medias (TV, radio, print and social) merely exacerbates the problems that societies world-wide are experiencing; the economic instabilities that families are experiencing; the inability to find meaningful employment that generates an adequate income; the disparate conditions existing between the have-a-lots and have-nots; the inability of governments to provide a modicum of security; the failure of faiths to guide their people to live in harmony. The insecurity these problems create causes instinctive emotional desires for a child’s imagined refuge of living with parents providing their lives with structure, purpose and protection. Failing to find this leads to irrational and often violent reactions to their reality.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Well. It’s the media’s job (on a democracy) to make average citizens aware of what is happening in the world. To provide citizens transparency of what their representation is doing, and expose corrupt or undesirable actions of the government. That will hopefully lead to checks, and balances, from other parts, or ultimately the civilian population of a country…

The media can be misused, as any other tool, and will be, unless such things as free press exist.

Polarization happens, in politics. As long as a media source isn’t misrepresenting the truth, on purpose, I am OK with it getting “it’s day” in the court of public opinion. I think this ,at least used to, hold politicians partly accountable for their statements/actions.

Without free press, there cannot be anything other than a dictatorship. Noone should be beyond reproach.

zenvelo's avatar

Social media is just a tool for deepening the divide.

I personally believe much of the genesis of political discord arises from two people: Pat Buchanan, with his white nativist evangelical declaration that the country was in a “culture war”; the other was Newt Gingrich and his refusal to achieve comity.

Kardamom's avatar

@zenvelo, Don’t forget Rush Limbaugh.

Demosthenes's avatar

As with any time we fault the media, I tend to think the media is a reflection of ourselves more than anything. The media furthers political division, yes, but that’s only because we’re already divided. So I wouldn’t blame the media by itself. It’s a symptom of a larger problem, but it is making the problem worse, no doubt about it. It’s easier than ever to create an echo chamber for yourself online where your views are constantly reinforced and never challenged, and the other side is presented as pure evil that needs to be vanquished. It’s thinking like that that will eventually lead to violence.

flutherother's avatar

This question is about social media folks. The media is something else.

Darth_Algar's avatar


It’s not that simply though. The polarization of political opinion began long before social media was a thing. Certainly Facebook and the like has exacerbated the issue, but they are not the cause of it.

Kropotkin's avatar

What I’d say is that social media, and the internet in general, has made it easier to facilitate confirmation bias.

It has ‘democratised’ knowledge in that more people think that mere access to information is equivalent to actual knowledge and ability to assess that information.

Social media has made it easier to share what might otherwise have been private thoughts, or ones restricted to relatively small circles. This may be the main mechanism for in-group reinforcement of political beliefs, and out-group hostility.

Regardless of whatever underlying economic or social factors might be polarising political opinion—today we literally have fascists and racist ethno-centrists (some notable “intellectuals” in that list) confidently espousing their views without a hint of shame, and wailing about “free speech” to attack anyone who deem their views unacceptable. I think this would not have been anywhere near as significant without social media.

Zaku's avatar

No, but it can contribute. I have a Facebook “friend” who thinks Trump is a superhero out to save us from rich powerful people, and that he’s trying to let us know that we already have a space fleet, and he has a crew of friends who agree with him who all subscribe to some bizarre incomprehensible conspiracy blog and/or YouTube channel saying these things, and when people disagree, these friends suggest un-friending people who disagree…

Of course, that’s another “pole”, but sometimes extreme examples show some things that are true in more moderate cases, more clearly…

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Tell those friends that Obama has a hidden space fleet behind the Sun. It’s a trap!

LadyMarissa's avatar

I don’t “blame” social media; but it sure does seem to fuel the flames!!! We’ve become a society of sheep. Few think for themselves finding it easier to pick up a cause without knowing anything about it.

Zaku's avatar

@MrGrimm888 Good idea, though they also think Trump has had Obama safely imprisoned for several months. There was a whole elaborate post with discussion about how the media has no photos of Obama attending Tom Hank’s recent wedding because it’s fake news and Obama is actually secretly being held by the Secret Service under orders from Trump heroically using his executive powers to save us from Obama…

MrGrimm888's avatar

Nope. I like the hidden space fleet. Obama can’t be taken prisoner. He knows ancient Islamic martial arts. Don’t forget his telepathy. He uses that to make Trump lie so much.

Zaku's avatar

Right, and I have that on good authority from a ranking former member of the executive branch, don’t I?

JLeslie's avatar

I think we can give social media part of the blame, which means we need to blame ourselves.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Ahhh… That’s probably true…... At least many of us, have helped perpetuate a news story. Truth spreading, is good. Rumors, or bs, is obviously bad to spread.

LadyMarissa's avatar

I agree with @JLeslie We are ALL to blame for jumping on fake stories. Sally Fields died 60 times in one month & I lost count on the number of RIP messages on Twitter. Now, when I see a report of a celebrity death, I do some research to see IF it’s true before I get upset. I’ve also stopped forwarding the “missing child” notices as many of those are fake also.We even had a woman in thus area who put out a donation jar at several locations claiming to have cancer & asking for donations so she could eat. Her boyfriend recovered the donations every night. Her Mother happened upon one of the donation jars & called the police to turn her in for fraud. She didn’t have nor had she ever had cancer & she had collected thousands of dollars from well meaning people.

KNOWITALL's avatar

No, not in my opinion. We the people need to research what we share, memes or news articles, all should be shared responsibly BUT people tend to WANT to believe the worst about the opposite party. Unfortunately, not many people are willing to put in the work to prove or disprove anything. That’s why it makes me laugh to hear any ONE party being called Sheep…both parties have those.

Another thing is ego. How many Reps call other Reps out for fake news? Or vice versa with the Dems? Very few that I’ve seen, everyone just wants to agree with each other that Trumps evil and does zero good, it’s like a club now, party versus party.

Moderates are the ones who often say nothing and share very few articles or memes. To me, they are the ones I’ll try to converse with, not the polarized folks who seem not to use their critical thinking skills.

Miss_Debi_63's avatar

They are not ‘to blame’ per-se… it has always existed.
But they do ‘fan the flames’ so to speak, and make divisiveness more apparent, louder, and more visible.
Don’t blame the Media—put the blame where it belongs…
On Washington, Greedy Politicians, and human nature!
Everyone treats Politics like a Team Sport. You root for your team no matter how badly they perform, or how many members of the team act against the needs or beliefs of the team.
It’s not a game, or a team sport.
People SHOULD be able to think for themselves, and ote according to what the individuals running for office have already done for the people they wish to represent.
Voting records count! Actions Count! Words are cheap and Politicians lie.
On ALL sides!

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