The polarizing act of social media

Since playing with friends from a young age, most people are taught principles of fairness and to treat others like you want to be treated. This has to be implemented into a person’s thinking as early as possible. As we get older, groups become more influential as we mature. In today’s world, groups are formed differently, but have some the same powerful influences they had before social media. Social media mobilized communicating and connecting with people. It is effortless to find a group supporting a personal interest or cause. Because of this affordance, the expectations of belonging to multiple groups accompany the “always connected” modern lifestyle. In “The Daily We: Is the Internet really a blessing for democracy?,” Sunstein discusses and mentions empirical data about the tendencies of like-minded groups to make more extreme decisions than groups which include a wide range of opinions. Groups have always had a profound influences dating back to the historic extreme cults and clans such as the Klu Klux Klan. Groups such as these overshadow logical reasoning of an individual to support the more extreme ideals that mildly supported within a group. Peer pressure and other social factors influence this decision, but Sunstein pointed to the diversification of a group to be a determining factor.
Social media and its various platforms emphasize connecting with people and building massive online social networks. As social media has aged, so has the users and their networks. Most users have many connections/friends/followers that they have never met and never intend to interact with in the real world. Because of the growth of online social connections, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook allow for you to filter you news feed. This is a vital curation tool, but it also changes the dynamics of the diversification of the presented information. For example, if you see a comment you do not like or agree with on Facebook, the user has the option to remove this specific user’s post from their future news feeds. Like I mentioned, this is useful tool, but by eliminating opposing opinions, we fall into the trap Sunstein cites in her work. Lack of opposing opinions reinforce like-minded thinking even further and presents the threat of extreme decision making.

A few weeks ago, I saw an episode of Modern Family that I continued to forget to mention. This episode depicts the family communicating and interacting only through Skype. Claire, the mother, is attempting to patch up things with her daughter, Haley, after a boisterous fight. Claire is trying to find Haley to talk things out through video chatting the rest of her family. A few conspiracies were started around Haley’s ambiguous Facebook status and were reiterated by the family who had no knowledge of what Haley was up to. This episode relates to how groups influence an individual and how this influence is more extreme when derived from a group.

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