Social media adds to polarization

Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

In the polarizing society we live in today, it’s frightening to think that social media’s algorithms are contributing to it.

Recently, Jeffrey Herbst, who is the president and CEO of the Newseum in Washington, D.C., argued that social media companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are becoming news organizations — whether the companies want to accept the definition or not.

The main difference between these companies and traditional structures in the algorithm is the editor, he argues.

“How technology firms position themselves as news providers, and the choices they make as a result, will have an effect not only on the companies themselves but also on the quality of our democracy,” Herbst said in an April 14 column in the Wall Street Journal.

Many of the algorithms, particularly those of Facebook and Twitter, are designed to deliver information to you based on your interests. This is determined by gathering data about previous articles and posts you have read, your online searches and items your “friends” or “followers” recommend.

The algorithms also tend to show you more posts from friends or followers with whom you interact frequently or most recently.

If more people are gathering news from posts on social media, then more people are gathering news based on what acquaintances are sharing.

Unless you have a diverse group of friends and followers, with various backgrounds, differing religious and political views, you are more likely to read articles that cater to your personal views and biases.

This isn’t particularly healthy for democracy, which is dependent upon debate of opposing views and topics.

Cable news channels such as CNN, Fox and MSNBC frequently are targeted for being biased and slanted to cater to a certain ideology. The current presidential nominees have expressed their thoughts about media biases several times along the campaign trail.

A recently published Stanford paper, “Bias in Cable News: Persuasion and Polarization,” concludes “the tastes for news channels are partly determined by the closeness of the news channels’ estimated ideology to the individuals” and “cable news can increase polarization.”

The findings may come as no surprise, but what is true for these cable channels may also be true for social media, if the news and views we gather from these sites align with our own ideologies because our acquaintances have similar ideologies.

This is something we need to be aware of for ourselves as we consume media and as views continue to become more polarized.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Sned comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com