Opinion | Social media catalyzes political polarization

Kaitlin Mikrut

By Ellen Barczak, Columnist

I know countless people who consider themselves staunch atheists. I also know countless people who are, frankly, religious fanatics (across multiple religions). Our society seems not to tilt in one direction ideologically; rather, we seem to become increasingly polarized over time. 

Take a look at the government. Historically, there have been more moderates than close-minded liberals or conservatives. (Yes, both parties can be equally and oppositely close-minded.) 

There used to be a great number of issues upon which all agreed; for example, Supreme Court nominations used to be voted through U.S. Congress with ease. In 2016, the Republican Party blocked Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Court, citing the impending presidential election. The Democratic Party, in retaliation, fought tooth and nail against now Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation. 

So why, today, are conservatives more conservative and liberals more liberal? There appears to be a tragic shortage of reasonable people around.

I know individuals who believe a woman’s place is exclusively in the home, who believe a woman should not “take a corporate job from a man.” That’s a direct quote from a real live person in 2019. Scary, right?

I also know individuals who believe we should implement universal basic income countrywide and who believe we should throw out the baby with the bathwater in regard to capitalism. Scary, right?

We all seem to agree on less and less as time passes. Our common ground as the American people is shrinking as fast as the glaciers (which, by the way, is an objective fact).

Where do you stand amid this extremism? Do you find yourself condemning and disavowing the “other half” more than you try to reasonably consider their point of view? Do you find yourself digging only deeper into your personal ideological trench?

A huge instigator of this polarization, I believe, is social media. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, you name it, have all become veritable echo-chambers of one’s beliefs. One can tailor exactly what media they consume to their political taste. It’s self-imposed censorship.

In the past, people encountered the news of the world through either a newspaper, a radio or a television, period. There was no possible way to cherry pick the type of news one wished to hear about. Everybody watched Walter Cronkite and decided what to think for themselves.

Today, people decide what to think of the world before they even know the news; there exists a network for every political taste, for every bias and preconceived idea. We decide what we think before we even know what’s going on.

Check out the 2019 Media Bias Chart, and see where the news sources you favor fall. Remember, just because a media outlet shares your bias doesn’t mean it’s inherently benevolent.

Maybe we should all focus on areas of agreement in politics instead of looking for reasons to condemn the other side. Though sparse, the few bits of common ground remaining have the power to heal our divided nation.

Ellen is junior in LAS.

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Correction: A previous version of the column stated that Neil Gorsuch’s nomination was blocked by Congress, but it was actually Merrick Garland in 2016. The Daily Illini regrets this error.