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Polarization and the Division of Society

Social Media and the Masses

Process of Polarization and Potential for Progress

Polarization and the Division of Society

People used to rely on news outlets to know what's happening around the world; now, most of us get our news from social media. For example, we used to read articles to determine 'what' is happening, and then we used to think for ourselves on 'why' this happened and 'how' we should feel about it. Now, with convenience at our fingertips, we are in the midst of a reversal. The politics we are partial to already define for us 'what' has happened. This is a product of the increasing bipolarization and division in our society. To a large degree we already know what we will believe and what we will not accept, establishing a dangerous dichotomy of thought. Along these lines, the convenience of social media - the content of which is continually shaped by unseen forces and algorithms that prey on our technological footprints - has fed into this dichotomy. Now most follow their news to better understand the 'how'--how should we feel? How should we react? What fits the narrative of the rhetoric we've already accepted? And because we share articles that fit in with our beliefs and connect with others who have similar views to our own, social media makes it easy for us to bolster this mindset of finding support for our biases rather than allow new information to broaden our insights. The news we intake becomes recycled based on our previous biases. Here lies the ultimate danger of social media without due regulation: the guided polarization of digital news only exasperates the existing divisions in our society.

Social Media and the Masses

The idea of our influences directing us toward belief and action is not new. Le Bon, a polymath dedicated to the work on crowd psychology, makes the case that since the dawn of time we have always been under the influence of religious, political, and social illusions (See The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind). He states that because the masses have always been under these influences, we are ingrained to seek out an illusion to grasp to under any and all circumstances. He noted that while philosophers in the 19th century have worked greatly to destroy these illusions, they have not been able to provide the masses with any ideal that could effectively sway them. Accordingly, the masses now flock to whichever rhetorician wets their appetites. Le Bon may have written his seminal work at the turn of the 20th century, but his words seem appropriate now more than ever. Social media has become a universal outlet to which we grasp onto our illusions, and refuse to diversify ourselves to viewpoints that differ than our own. Living in this new digital age, we are thereby narrowing our visions of reality and widening the divisions we have from one another and, perhaps even, from truth. Truth itself has become fragmented, relying on the whims of the reader. All the while most of us remain clueless to the puppeteers behind the curtains.

It's natural for our experiences to dictate our way of thinking in the Lockean framework of epistemology, but the problem with polarization in social media today is that it leaves little to no room for genuine discourse. What social media offers us is a steady and consistent affirmation from our peers who think similarly to us. Social media is intrinsically designed to connect us with others who will encourage our way of thinking, even if our logic is flawed or our news misguided. In other words, for many social media has made home to a great convenience of getting the assurance we want from others who already agree with us that productive speculation or positive self-doubt becomes a foreign process. Many people then become so encouraged by their opinions that they begin to confuse them for facts. In order to bridge the gaps in our society, we must, at the very least, understand the diverse markup of our communal struggle for survival.

Process of Polarization and Potential for Progress

Social media and similar digital mediums largely influence our thinking through targeted advertisements. Every time we swallow the mental pill on Facebook, Reddit, and the like, the databases on those sites store our personal and private data to their advantage, keeping close track of what we search and what our interests are. This misuse of our privacy and the self-selective filter bubbles social media creates for us works to keep the masses addicted. We connect with others who have beliefs aligning to our own, we 'like' their posts and share their posts, and without second though allow behemoth companies to track our personal information and internet consumption tendencies. Social media works by continuing to offer us exposure to our interests; unfortunately this is the problem. Since we are more likely to accept ideas that align with our pre-existing beliefs, and thus continue to scroll down our social media feeds, the posts that pop up first on our accounts are the news sources that work with our existing confirmation biases. Under such a system, what should be expected except for a widening of the rifts that divide us?

If we want our society to progress more efficiently towards unity, we must depolarize our social media. To do this, we must begin by introducing legislation and regulation that prevents companies from providing overly filtered access to misguided illusions. It is not enough to fault the masses alone. If we read more articles from various news sources, share those with friends that hold our current viewpoints and create further connections to others with entirely different perspectives, we may begin to undo the process of polarized information that has so heavily influenced our social media and negatively impacted our society. But to be truly successful, we must target the unseen as much as the obvious.

-- KjSalameh - 09 Oct 2020



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r2 - 09 Oct 2020 - 02:48:40 - KjSalameh
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