How Social Media is Polarizing Us

I’ve been thoroughly dismayed by Facebook the past couple of years. Maybe it’s a quirk of memory, but I don’t remember my feed being so full of political sparring and overwhelming anger between 2009 to 2012. Outrage has become the default position of my peers, and it doesn’t show any sign of diminishing.


As anyone who has ever engaged in a spirited debate knows, a mind can’t be changed from without – it has to change from within. While appealing to sentiment is more effective than using cool rationality, our beliefs are like muscles – they only get stronger when stressed and challenged. In addition, as Charlie Munger, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has said: “[when] you start shouting orthodox ideology out, what you’re doing is pounding it in, pounding it in, and you’re gradually ruining your mind.”

This is a devilish feature of human nature, and means that beliefs are almost invincible – the more they’re repeated, the more they’re believed, and the more they’re challenged, the more they’re believed. Thus, the only way to weaken a belief is to let it be – to leave it alone. The longer it’s disregarded the weaker it gets. Any attention, positive or negative, acts as fuel for the fire.

This is why social media, like Facebook, is so powerful. Chances are one of our hundreds (or thousands) of friends or acquaintances is going to be thinking and talking about one of our deep seated beliefs at any given time of day; especially if these beliefs are political in nature and related to a salient event. In the past, we weren’t likely to be constantly confronted with such topics unless we always had the news on in the background. And, even then, phones command our attention much more actively than TVs ever did.

Today, however, not only are we continuously confronted with political and societal outrages, but the personal nature of Facebook means that our emotional responses are on steroids. If we agree with the statement, article or video posted, we don’t just like the video, we like our friend as well. And, by “liking” or commenting on the shared snippet, we reaffirm our belief and our friendship. On the other hand, if we thoroughly disagree with the message posted, and decide to jump into the comment thread to “set our friend straight”, we’re only reaffirming our own belief and prompting our friend to reaffirm theirs. It’s a race to the bottom, and a game where both sides get stronger – making mutually assured destruction the only available outcome.

This is how polarization occurs. In a certain sense, there’s no way around this. The only way out is to opt out by disabling one’s account. Dozens of my friends have gone this way and claim that they feel “much better” and “calmer” since the change. Me? I’m addicted. And I love getting embroiled in long threads of argumentation. Though it’s likely not good for my blood pressure at times, I’m able to laugh off the conflicts and move on. But even through the laughs, I’m probably pounding my beliefs in even deeper. There’s a danger in engaging. Attention is hunger for all beliefs – big, small, petty, and dangerous.

Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Human beings are psychologically hardwired to fear differences
  • Several recent studies show evidence that digital spaces exacerbate the psychology which contributes to tribalism
  • Shared experiences of awe, such as space travel, or even simple shared meals, have surprising effectives for uniting opposing groups
Keep reading Show less

10 common traits of self-actualized people

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is updated for the 21st century in a new study.

Pixabay
Mind & Brain
  • Maslow's famous "Hierarchy of Needs" describes different levels of human motivation.
  • A new study updates the hierarchy through modern methods.
  • The research shows that self-actualized people share 10 specific traits.
Keep reading Show less

Iceland is officially worshiping Norse Gods again

For the first time since the Vikings sailed, the Icelandic public will soon be able to worship classical Norse gods like Odin, Thor, and Frigg at a public temple built in their honor.

popular

For the first time since the Vikings sailed, the Icelandic public are worshiping classical Norse gods like Odin, Thor, and Frigg at a public temple built in their honor. "The worship of Odin, Thor, Freya and the other gods of the old Norse pantheon became an officially recognized religion exactly 973 years after Iceland’s official conversion to Christianity."

Keep reading Show less

How sexual fantasies affect your relationship

There are two main types of sexual fantasies. One, however, is more destructive than the other.

Sex & Relationships
  • There are two main types of sexual fantasies.
  • One of them is more harmful to the a relationship or marriage than the other (by a lot).
  • Sexually fantasizing about somebody else, though, neither hurts a relationship nor helps it; instead, it has the same mental impact as random daydreaming.
Keep reading Show less