Social Media Polerization

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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People that use social media, websites, and applications that enable them to create and share content or to participate in social networking, are being affected by the things they see on their screens every day. Therefore every time you open social media you are being polarized towards one side of an issue. Polarization is a sharp division, as of a population or group, into opposing factions. According to a new study done by market-research group Nielsen, American adults spend more than 11 hours a day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media.

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84 percent of people use social media to support a cause or issue they care about. It is not acceptable for people to be influenced by the things they see on social media that could be bias or unfactual. They need to be able to form their own opinions through proper research but this is getting more difficult since scrolling through social media is more convenient than taking the time to do your own research and make an informed decision about a topic.

Polarization through social media occurs in many different forms, but the most relevant today is the psychological, political and religious polarization. According to Martin Luther King Jr, “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” and this is especially true when it comes to social media polarization. Psychology is one of the main reasons that we get polarized on social media. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that makes us feel happy. This is what makes tweeting harder for people to resist than cigarettes and alcohol. 60 percent of females are addicted to social media and 56 percent of people are afraid of missing out which is why they cannot stay off of social media. Interactions via social media make people feel connected without the difficulties and complexities involved in face-to-face interactions. Compared to interactions with computers, interactions with humans requires more emotional involvement, cognitive effort, and brain activation. When people stay on social media for longer periods of time they increase their chances of being polarized.

Usually, on social media we are browsing topics that interest us and when we do we can be polarized by other peoples opinions about those topics, these posts do not have to be factual or unbias which puts us at a higher risk for an uneducated opinion about important topics we care about. 68 percent of people share things to let others know what they believe in and care about. Therefore they begin to spread their opinion which is more likely to cause polarization as well. People may actually go onto social media looking for a topic that they want to research and end up finding good information that convinces them to change their mind or pull them further to one side. One example of this is the social media platform Youtube. Many YouTubers use their channels to inform others about topics they care about and the comment section of the videos is also filled with plenty of opinions from the viewers, when we read other peoples comments it could encourage us to agree with their argument, sometimes without even watching the video, and spread the incorrect ideas to others. Every minute an average of 48 hours of content is uploaded, which is estimated to be about 8 years of content every day.

Psychology plays a major role in our susceptibility to social media sites and their effect on our opinions even if we don’t realize it. Even if the influencers on these social media platforms have different intentions, people can miscommunicate and misinterpret information through social media. The political aspect of polarization is between liberals and conservatives, republicans and democrats. According to Janie Valencia, a freelance writer focused on survey research, 31% of Americans identified as Democrat, 24% identified as Republican, and 42% as Independent. This is partly due to the fact that political ads also contribute to polarization. Campaigns usually spend upwards of three billion dollars on broadcast television ads, for example, the 2012 presidential, congressional and gubernatorial elections had a record-breaking amount, according to Moody’s Investment Services. They found that a 1,000-ad advantage in any given market over the course of an election increased a candidate’s vote share by about 0.5 percentage points. This is because people are being polarized by the ads. Every social media site has ads on it, some even require you to view an ad before having access to a video or game.

Therefore we are required to be influenced by whatever we see, whether the polarization is for or against the subject being advertised. “It’s a small effect, but it could make a difference in a close election,” Franz says. It engages younger audiences “It’s funny that a bunch of liberal academics has given conservative campaigns so much to work with,” says David Pizarro, a political psychology professor at Cornell. “But they give us good ideas, too — conservatives have been much better at making use of emotional tools in their campaigns than liberals… If it’s a new candidate … it might help build positive feelings to have the candidate in an ad, smiling, holding happy children, standing with the American flag,” he says. “But once we know a candidate, our prior convictions, especially partisanship, are going to take over.” Ted Brader, PhD, a political psychology professor at the University of Michigan. Social media allows politicians to see how people react to certain ideas and adjust their campaigns according to their reactions. It also gives them a platform to advertise themselves somewhere for everyone to see. Twitter and Facebook have become crucial tools when it comes to organizing a campaign. They help people with similar political beliefs like voters and activists to easily share and retweet news and information like campaign events with each other for everyone to see, causing polarization.

Donald Trump mainly used Twitter in his 2016 presidential campaign. “I like it because I can get also my point of view out there, and my point of view is very important to a lot of people that are looking at me,” Trump said. The religious lens shows that many different religions also use social media to create a sense of community. This gives the faithful communities unlimited viewers since these religions have very strong and specific beliefs they are projecting onto social media others are being polarized by it. An example of this is an application on facebook called ‘My Church’ which includes podcasts called ‘Godcasts’. Another example is from a few years ago when a UK cathedral started live-tweeting its services. There were questions about how appropriate it was. There was is a case being made that if you’re on Twitter you’re not engaging as fully as when you’re not on Twitter. There are concerns that a series of short tweets is not an appropriate way to represent complex and subtle concepts which makes it easy for viewers who are not part of the religion easily misunderstand and get polarized against it just because they didn’t get enough information or mistook the short blurbs. When you’re talking in 140 characters or a seven-second video, you have to condense things.

People tend to stereotype or simplify messages. This lack of communication leads to prejudice hate groups and “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” according to Martin Luther King Jr. in his letter from a Birmingham jail, it is difficult to stop misconceptions about a group of people, especially when hate is being spread via social media. 1 in 3 Facebook users declare their religion on their profiles and 4 in 10 publicly support a religious organization or page. Social media is being increasingly used by religious leaders as a way to communicate with both their congregations and to other groups. Pope Francis gained over 1 million followers within 12 hours of creating an account. So religious leaders can get higher engagement through social media. People can argue that social media does not promote their religion but that it is a place for them to express their beliefs that don’t affect others, they do not realize that although the effect could be small it still does exist, whether it be in good or bad connotation. In conclusion, many religions use social media to promote and express the things they believe in for everyone to see.

Although they may see this as just affecting themselves it also has an effect on others who use social media and is, therefore, polarizing them towards a religion or away from it. This also works for the opposite, if people are against religions it can also affect how people view them. In the letter from Birmingham jail Martin Luther King Jr. says “I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes” he is referring to the fact that white people at the time were judging African Americans for causing mayhem in the streets when they were not focusing on the cause of it. They were blind to it since racism was not affecting them. This is related to polarization because people are not focusing on the fact that social media is affecting their views and opinions deeply and polarizing them to different sides of issues in the world.

Our society is blind to the fact that they are constantly being influenced by the information being given to them by social media. They wonder why people have such strong beliefs that are about relevant topics but don’t consider social media, which they use constantly, as a factor for peoples love or hate towards things. More laws and regulations could be stricter about the information and opinions being factual but according to Northwestern University Ph.D., and former Chief Academic Officer at ExecOnline “Laws against phenomena like hate speech and deceptive advertising do exist, and the irritant of fake news is being addressed. However, freedom of speech, particularly in the U.S., is generally regarded as inviolable, and a Fairness Doctrine won’t be coming back when the internet gives every voice a microphone. And so it is doubtful that meaningful regulation could occur.” People may not believe in the information or side they are being polarized towards but they are being manipulated by the things they see on social media, therefore they should limit their time on it, be more careful about the sources being credible and do their own research before claiming to be for or against certain issues.

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal” Martin Luther King Jr. Psychology, Religion, and politics are not the only subjects that are included in social media polarization but we don’t realize that it is gradually happening to us more every day that we go onto social media which is why we need to limit our time on it as much as we can to avoid polarization and start forming more of our own informed opinions.

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Social Media Polerization. (2019, Jul 03). Retrieved from