Fueling The Fire: How Social Media Intensifies U.S. Political Polarization – And What Can Be Done About It

Fueling The Fire
September 2021
Do major tech sites stoke political polarization?

Some critics of the social media industry contend that widespread use of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube has contributed to increased political polarization in the United States. But Facebook, the largest social media platform, has disputed this contention, saying that it is unsupported by social science research. Determining whether social media plays a role in worsening partisan animosity is important because political polarization has pernicious consequences. We conclude that social media platforms are not the main cause of rising partisan hatred, but use of these platforms intensifies divisiveness and thus contributes to its corrosive effects.

The consequences of extreme partisan animosity

In the U.S., where divisiveness has reached new extremes, the consequences of polarization include declining trust in fellow citizens and major institutions; erosion of democratic norms like respect for elections; loss of faith in the existence of commonly held facts; and political violence such as the January 6, 2021, insurrection on Capitol Hill.

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