America has an extremism problem.
I’m not talking about the religious extremism that attempts to inflict terror upon the world, although it could be argued that it plays a role. But the specific problem in America that concerns me is the political extremism to which we have blindly drifted as a society as gently nudged by social media.
The American governance system is rooted in balance, collaboration, and, when necessary, compromise. It was created to strike a balance between the state and the people, the haves and the have-nots, and the urban and the rural.
That balance has been dismantled by the capitalistic powers behind social media. It wasn’t necessarily their intent, but it is clearly a byproduct of the way social media sites are engineered.
The corporate giants in social media do not have a political agenda, regardless of what your neighbor, your uncle, or any other conspiracy theorist in your circle says. Their agenda is strictly capitalistic, and the way they achieve that agenda is by weaving polarizing political information into your feed between the dinner pics and cat videos. That keeps you glued to their site for more hours of the day, to which they sell to their advertisers.
There is ample research and evidence confirming this is exactly what happens. It’s even fairly well-publicized by this point, and yet the public still flocks to these online watering holes with an increasing frequency, thereby becoming more polarized toward their particular side. It doesn’t take long before they have been pushed to the extreme.
These people stand out online. Their whole online presence becomes about joining the fight for their side, causing the cycle to continue and only get worse. They deliberately enter echo chambers, finding solace in others who share their ideals and have fallen victim to the same fate while simultaneously “unfriending” anyone with whom they disagree. And when they do encounter those conflicting opinions, they engage in online battle in a way few would do in person.
The results can be seen throughout the landscape of today’s political system. No longer are centrist candidates heralded for their ability to build consensus. Today candidates are rewarded for adopting an “us against them” approach, and the result is that progress is either nonexistent, or pushed through without a viable plan when one side has its short-lived majority.
I don’t have a solution for America’s extremism problem, but for me personally, I have a two-step approach to avoiding the trap. Disconnect, and keep an open mind.