Social media is not a main factor in political divison

By Sonu Trivedi, COLUMNIST
On January 28, 2018


While influential, social media should not be blamed for our own political polarization. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

As millennials, we often face criticism regarding our dependency on technology. Many say we are spoiled or have it too easy while others argue that social media makes us ignorant and feel like we are living in a bubble.       

Statements regarding social media polarization have become more widespread and hostile over the past few years, especially when it comes to politics and current affairs.

In order to combat these claims, Facebook has recently made strides to incorporate more centrist media that people from all sides can trust. Facebook has worked to incorporate a survey asking users which news mediums they trust the most, ultimately to reduce the amount of news circulating Facebook from five percent to four percent. 

The goal is to reduce the amount of “sensationalism, misinformation, and polarization in the world today.”

 While the effort by Facebook is done with good intent, the reasons for polarization do not necessarily stem from social media. Social media and technology have little impact on political polarization.           We constantly interact with social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and we often see posts and stories that reinforce our own beliefs.      

According to Science Magazine, Facebook has also utilized what is known as a “filter bubble,” using a news feed algorithm to create a personalized view of posts for each consumer. As a result of these filtering algorithms, conservatives are more likely to come across articles defending the current administration while liberals run into comments that denounce it.

Even Former President Barack Obama mentioned this phenomenon in his Farewell Address where he stated  “it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook.”   

This issue is definitely a struggle for our country as we have become too comfortable with our own views to seriously consider the words of those who challenge them. 

But the important thing to remember is that social media is not to blame for this — we are. The internet is a network just like the students around us on campus or the people we interact with at work. We choose who to talk to and follow just like we do in real life, so how is it fair to blame the system itself?

A study from Stanford and Brown University shows demographic groups that are least likely to use social media and the internet has the largest growth in polarization. Perhaps we are spoiled by these applications when it comes to the efficiency with which we digest and spread information, but this just makes the political and democratic process more inclusive. 

More people than ever have a political presence and an effective way to spread their thoughts.

It is important to note, however, that the ease with which content can be shared on the web is another pitfall that can be destructive at times. Photoshopped pictures and fabricated stories are prevalent now more than ever.

In the age of “fake news” and blind retweets, it is our responsibility to ensure that social media is a beneficial tool and not a vehicle for ignorance. When it comes to the political process, on and offline, staying open-minded and alert is more important now than ever. 

 

Sonu Trivedi is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.

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