Are you living in a political bubble?


Jessi Rich, Co-Editor-in-Chief

In our current day in age, social media has achieved nearly ubiquitous use and even greater influence. Fashion and beauty trends cycle through pop culture thanks to apps like Pinterest and TikTok, and the avid users of Twitter have their own lingo that may take a few UrbanDictionary searches to understand.


While the Internet is a vast, multidimensional resource that in many ways makes our day-to-day lives easier than they were before its existence, this expansive social network also has its obvious drawbacks. One concern, however, is stirring up the most discussion in light of recent events: how social media platforms may be polarizing our political opinions.


Tensions between political factions in the United States are on the brink of boiling over, if the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 over Democratic president Joe Biden’s election certification isn’t evidence that they’ve boiled over already. According to Greater Good Magazine, the percentage of Americans who consistently hold liberal or conservative beliefs—rather than a mix of the two…has jumped from 10 percent to over 20.”


 In other words, we’re simply not thinking as moderately as we used to, and worse, active hatred against opposing parties has gone rampant. While it’s hard to chalk the current divide in America up to any one cause–impossible, in fact, as there’s a plethora of causes–social media and Americans’ interaction with it almost certainly plays a role.


In a TED Talk recorded in 2011, author and activist Eli Pariser discusses the concept of “filter bubbles,” that is: the propensity for social media algorithms to eventually isolate what we see into just content we agree with or enjoy. Though these algorithms are part of companies’ attempts to improve user experience and only show users relevant posts, it brings the psychological factor of confirmation bias into question.


Confirmation bias describes the human tendency to actively seek out ideas that confirm or strengthen what we already believe–which also means we, as humans, have a tendency to ignore anything that speaks to the contrary. That’s the danger of filter bubbles: with enough interaction with users and content that only confirm our ideas rather than debate them, we can no longer find the possible faults in our arguments and beliefs.


If the meat of the problem is underexposure to conflicting ideas, then the theoretical solution would be to increase interaction with people who think differently. Duke University professor of sociology Christopher Bail put this idea to the test. Bail began by paying Republicans and Democrats to follow a certain Twitter bot, which would then share content from the opposing side. Rather than moderating the participants’ views, a month of exposure left Republicans more conservative than they had been before, and Democrats more or less the same as they had been before. 


Thus, confirmation bias isn’t the only psychological effect at play here; groupthink is lurking behind the scenes as well. People’s strong desire to affiliate themselves with a group can sometimes override original thought and individual decision-making. Even in spite of that, when we successfully find a place to fit in, it’s difficult to let go.


The simple fact is that there isn’t any one way to dampen the currently fierce flames of the American political climate. A change in our way of thinking means a change in the very way the fabric of our society operates, and that’s not going to happen overnight. 


The issues about which people feel so strongly must be addressed, and change must be embraced. People on opposing sides–and most importantly, political and community leaders on opposing sides–need to sit down and have authentic, rational conversations about the subjects on which they disagree. More likely than not, the social media moguls that run the American tech scene, like Facebook and Twitter, will also have to start taking more responsibility for what’s said on their platform.


With Twitter banning Donald Trump’s account two days after the storming of the Capitol, it looks like some of those changes might be coming to fruition. The dividing lines between Americans are still clear, however, which is a precarious circumstance to be in. 


Former president Abraham Lincoln said it best: A house divided against itself cannot stand.


By: Jessi Rich

Image: Daily Sabah