We currently live in an information age that’s marked by a change in the ways in which information is spread. Today, a lot of information is being exchanged through social networks resulting in the fast travel of news with just a press of a button. As this is happening, people and areas never accessed before are being reached. This can be seen as a breakthrough as communication is concerned, but there appears to be dangers concerning the kind of information being spread, especially on social networks. Different sites, like Facebook use algorithms that potentially create filter bubbles. “These algorithms inadvertently amplify ideological segregation by automatically recommending content an individual is likely to agree with(Flaxman, 2016).” This can be seen as positive when thinking about the quick accessibility aspect but when looking at the particular type of information and news the user would be getting affirms their current beliefs, prejudices and biases .
These algorithms have had the impact of driving polarization in society in which people grow more apart in terms of their beliefs, ideologies and prejudices. This promotes the development of much narrower perspectives inside their own bubbles instead of having a wide perspective of society as a whole. In a multicultural society like America, this has allows for further separation as people may increasingly identify with the communities of like-mindedness leading to more polarization of the society which has already become less tolerant of alternative voices and opinions. This has negatively impacted on democracy which strives for tolerance of ideas, beliefs and ideologies.
There is a growing trend in the United States whereby people are choosing what kind of information they want to consume. Although Bishop argues that historically people seek out the social settings they prefer, the advent of social media has taken this segregation to a whole new level (Bishop, 2008). Joining the new media in enhancing exposure to political differences. Quoting Iyengar, consumers of the major newspaper and television outlets are selective concerning their sources of news (Iyengar 2009). For example, the liberals prefer CNN and NPR as their source of news while the conservatives consume news from the Fox Newspaper.
This observation was further strengthened by a finding by Pew Research which found that in matters related to politics, the liberals and the conservatives demonstrate very deep differences. And since these politically conscious groups do not consume news from common sources, it has caused the citizens to develop highly polarized attitudes toward political matters’, (Stroud, 2008). Opinions of the Republican party and the presidency and policies of President Donald Trump are also pushing the polarization of the media. President Trump has been unapologetic over racial stereotypes, homophobic rhetoric, his use of derogatory language and the tone he has overtly used when describing people of color, the gay and women respectively (Ross 2018). The conservative media outlets especially Fox News has been the favorite of the President who has continuously attacked liberal media houses who question the use of this language.
Predictably, the President’s supporters have not only defended him but have also kept their distance from the liberal media houses and grown more attracted to conservative media outlets and their content even as the liberals have shunned them and supported their own media houses. A good example is a recent altercation between the President and CNN’s Jim Acosta after he put the president through questioning he was not prepared nor seemed to care about. The blatant intolerance the President has against different ideas and clear bias towards certain media houses is shown in the aftermath of that altercation in which the White House proceeded to revoke the credentials of Acosta, effectively barring him from accessing the White House before a reprieve from the court which ordered the White House to reinstate these credentials. In that incident, President Trump cited CNN for reporting information he considered unfair and unprofessional simply because they took different positions on issues which the President had pronounced himself on.
The media also leads news consumers to develop intolerance to others with differing political views. “People who are repeatedly exposed to biased information that favors a particular political standpoint that is close to their own will eventually develop more extreme positions and be less tolerant concerning opposite points of view (Stroud 2008), Stroud goes on to explain that people with a tendency to consume news from one side of the news outlets are likely to develop extreme hostility towards others especially during the election period in the US. This selective exposure to news causes people to live in a real life filter bubble where a polarized culture of narrow-mindedness can grow. The situation has been supported by social media platforms which have increased the ease and ability of people to be selectively exposed to the news.
In the last presidential elections, American’s witnessed levels of mass polarization never seen before and things weren’t much different during this years midterm elections. The American society was hugely divided amongst the two major political parties. The polarization witnessed during these two elections must be broke down in the context of the rise of the fake news. The fake news phenomenon has taken America by storm with serious connection to the state of our country’s social cohesion. Fake news speaks to the idea of stories which are untrue or made up. Fake news stories are devoid of any verifiable facts, and its sources are also not known (Ross 2018). Its rise has been attributed to the social media where fake news stories spread like wildfire. This is hardly surprising given that a study by Pew Research Center revealed that at least 62% of US citizens rely on social media platforms mainly facebook and twitter as the source of their news (Duggan 2014).
There exists a strong connection between the rise of fake news and the increased polarization being witnessed in the US in the recent past. According to Stroud, “selective exposure behavior, confirmation bias and availability bias that make us more likely to interact with content which confirms our pre-existing views are the more likely trigger of ideological polarization, both offline and online (Stroud, 2008). This means that with the fake news phenomenon, the problem of ideological polarization due to selective exposure and the affirmation of existing bias will only get worse.
The online space is very unregulated or difficult to regulate given that social media is still a new platform, this creates a healthy ground for fake news to spread as the originators of such made up stories have no fear of being held accountable. Also, in these social networks, there is a decent sized audience who are not only ready to consume such news but also ready to use them to further incite intolerance, especially where such news is intended to stimulate strong views on matters related to politics.
President Trump has proven himself a lover of Twitter as he likes to use his twitter handle to communicate even what would normally have been communicated through official internal government channels such as the firing of senior officials like the recent former Secretary of State (Ross 2018). He has also used this handle to publish stories whose sources cannot be authenticated or facts verified. Some stories have been outrightly bordered on white supremacy, bigotry, misogyny and sexism (Ross 2018). If the reactions to these posts are anything to go by; they show increasing polarization in which his core base of supporters associate themselves with these opinions or just refuse to come out and call him out. But on the other hand, his victims and political opponents have no issue with voicing their differing views and condemning him for his closed mindedness.
Trump’s use of Twitter has also been used to repeatedly call out the mainstream whose stories he has termed as fake news, at times calling the mainstream media especially the liberal leaning media houses “fake media”(Ross 2018). This has had the effect of encouraging his supporters to stand against the so called “fake media”. Ross et al. argues that Trump has been a serial perpetrator of misinformation and disinformation which are both forms of the fake news phenomenon and continuation of the polarization in the US.