Social Networks Polarize Society


Once the digital crowd was small and consisted of mostly young, progressive, urban and educated. The sweeping digitization, however, is bringing the problem of “wisdom of the crowd” to the forefront.

Common sense and moderation will not win you likes and reposts. The algorithm of social networks encourages participation and greater involvement, because it capitalizes on it by selling participants to advertisers. Networks need more participants and more activity and thus select and display content that causes the greatest response and therefore leads to radicalization of communication.

This polarization process that affects two-thirds of Americans was vividly illustrated by Robert Kozinets from Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in his recent study. The study found that the use of social networks leads to a “natural selection” of extreme opinions and thus to an accelerated polarization. 

For example, pictures of ordinary food collect far fewer likes, comments and outposts than images of monstrous hamburgers and similar “food porn”. That is, the response, moderation is imperceptible and therefore not encouraged by the environment. Moreover: the more monstrous is a hamburger, the more chances an author to go beyond his usual circle of sharing, to a wider audience.

The same thing happens in politics and in other spheres that are caught up in the sublimation of free reactions. Direct democracy of the agora exalts participants and heats up debate, and further radicalizes participants through ‘feedback loops’.

The research indicates that the exact same mechanisms are at work in general society. As the Pew research revealed, American beliefs have become more partisan and more extreme. Religious beliefs are more fundamentalist. Political figures around the world are more polarized.

Moderation and a balanced approach to ideas and discourse seem to be fading away.

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