Polarization Series: Is Social Media to Blame? Professor Chris Bail

Almost everyone has an opinion about the impact of social media on political polarization. Most of us believe that Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube and other sites have made our civic life more angry and divided. But how much of this is true? Are consumers as much to blame as the platforms themselves?

15 years ago, in the very early days of social media, many Americans had a much more positive view of this new technology. It was bringing friends and families together, opening up new sources of information, and that was viewed as a good thing.

We discuss the surprising findings of research into social media and polarization with Professor Chris Bail, founder of the Polarization Lab at Duke University. He’s the author of the 2021 book, “Breaking The Social Media Prism.” Bail studies political tribalism, extremism, and social psychology using data from social media and research from computational social science.

This show was recorded during a week of chaos on Capitol Hill, right after the historic ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz who led the push to remove McCarthy, is one of a new generation of performative politicians, known more for their huge social media followings than their ability to get things done.

Both Democrat and Republican hardliners are among those who have used Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to push politics to the extremes. Compromise is considered a dirty word by these politicians. Working out the complex, time-consuming details of legislation is hardly the stuff of clicks or headlines.

In this episode we complicate the current social media narrative, learning more about algorithms, and user responses to them. This show is part of our podcast series on polarization, funded in part with a generous grant from Solutions Journalism Network. This non-profit group is about to celebrate its 10-year-anniversary.

Recommendation: Richard enjoyed going to the movies recently and seeing "Past Lives", the latest film by Korean-Canadian- American playwright, Celine Song. Richard also gives a thumbs up to "The Morning Show" on Apple TV. Both feature the work of actress Greta Lee.

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