By April Sun (San Jose Community Chapter)
2020 has been a year of both unity and division. As Congresspeople relentlessly debated the stimulus package in response to Covid-19, communities came together in support of each other. As All Lives Matter counter-protests escalated violently, individuals of many backgrounds stood in solidarity with the Black community in order to speak out about the murder of George Floyd and the systemic racism in this country.
If there is one thing the global community has learned from COVID-19, it is that progress occurs through collaboration, and society progresses through the interactions we have with each other. But in our generation, division manifests itself differently than previous generations. Social media allows for communication, but can also divide and isolate people even further.
One of the main issues with social media as it relates with division is the formation of echo chambers. These are closed systems of discussion where one’s beliefs are continuously reinforced by social media algorithms. This can be incredibly dangerous because the viewer only explores a singular aspect of the larger picture.
These chambers are worsened by the feature of social media that helps enable its success: targeted advertising. As a result, most individuals are not incentivized to read about articles that do not align with their interests or beliefs. The grass on this hill suits my tastes and is plentiful; not only is the grass on the other side less green but is also not as accessible, so why would I even consider going to that side of the hill? Moreover, when everyone else on this side of the hill thinks the grass is very green, why would I ever consider going anywhere else? The grass on this side clearly is the best grass. After all, that is what everyone else is saying.
On the bright side, there are ways to reduce partisanship through social media. From the legislative side of things, Congressional action can reduce bias by requiring social media companies like Facebook or Twitter to have stricter policies regarding the removal of content containing extreme political ideology. Congress can also pass laws preventing targeted advertising; however, social media companies will likely retaliate heavily given that this sort of advertising is quite profitable for these businesses. The government can also incentivize companies to push forward campaigns that advocate for healthy disagreements online, encouraging social media companies to have greater control over the messages conveyed through these platforms.
Unfortunately, change cannot just occur through legislation, it also must come about through what we do as young people when consuming information through social media platforms. Begin by understanding what makes the grass on your side of the hill green. What is this hill? Why did you arrive at this hill? Who influenced you to stand where you stand on this metaphorical hill? Do you ever think about the grass on the other side of the hill? Why or why not? These are all important things to keep at the back of your mind whenever you browse through social media.
Next, come up with strategies to reach a wider range of perspectives. Next time you are reading on the meaning of a Biden presidency on Facebook, maybe click on a post that doesn’t align with your beliefs. Try to understand why the article is conveying the information in the way that it is and unpack its biases. You may not necessarily agree with what the article is saying, but at least try to think of the reason why someone may agree with that differing perspective.
Moreover, reconsider every interaction with strangers on social media. At some point or another, you probably will become frustrated hearing other points of view. However, that gives you no excuse to be mean or use hateful language; be polite and discuss your disagreements in a manner that allows for learning for both sides. When other people make unhelpful comments, call them out, even if they are on your side of the hill. Sometimes people don’t realize that what they are saying is impolite, so don’t feel afraid to speak up. Lastly, remember to take a step back from the disagreements you may have with another person. To what extent do your and their ideas really differ? Do you share any beliefs or morals with the other individual? The answer is usually yes!
In the long term, to reduce polarization through social media and as a whole, it all comes down to learning. An open mind and an open heart are what allows for greater connection in this world.