Are you an active user of Facebook, or Twitter? A very large fraction of the population would reply in the affirmative. This is the era of social media. It is how we stay in touch with friends. For many it is primary outlet for gathering our news. For younger generations it may be not only dominant but the only source of news.
Let’s look at this a little closer. Who are our friends and who do we follow on social media? Generally people of like mind and shared interests. In most cases to the exclusion of alternative views. Also we tend to ‘like, share, retweet’ things of interest to us and in particular things that we agree with. In many cases we do this without checking the source and more importantly the veracity of the information. Some might argue that this is good since it builds community. This is true but the community it builds is extended (geographically) but of like minded people. Before the social media era, community would be defined as affinity among a diverse group of people. A community that can discuss and debate issues from all points of view. That is not the case in this social media era.
In fact, social media amplifies the polarization that we are experiencing in our society. Geographically diverse people with common views, values and opinions have a powerful mechanism to communicate and share information. The result is a rise in fractionation, what some term tribalism. Local has become national.
Social media has tended to suppress interest in ‘trusted sources’ for their news. Hence we see the proliferation of ‘fake news’ without any effective means to counter it and the resultant effects.
Clearly this is an issue for our democracy. It is not unexpected that new technology has both positive and negative effects. What is important, even critical, is that we realize this, discuss and debate it, and develop constraints and safeguards, in order to preserve our democracy.