Jonathan Haidt has written a long-read for The Atlantic on how social media has fundamentally impacted US society.
Obviously US focused, it nevertheless draws parallels with the current state of public discourse in the UK. The central point being that social media has changed the way we interact with issues and with each other – essentially with more anger and less understanding. A result of which is our institutions being damaged by this shift in engagement and removal of mass media gatekeeping helping to disintegrate universal norms. In short, ‘truth cannot achieve widespread adherence’ because we no longer have truly shared stories throughout societ.
It’s a bleak read, but ends with some ideas for how the situation can be, at least partially, improved.
I’m not an active social media broadcaster, insofar as not actively posting on any social network bar a few Linkedin posts. I tend to consume on social media, particularly on Twitter where I can lose hours sitting infront of the firehose. It shapes and hardens my views of issues, and yes I do find myself postioned knowingly within a certain tribe on many issues. Haidt talks at length at how the ‘Share’ or ‘Retweet’ has effectively amplified anger – anger is more viral – and narrowed the consumption of opposing views. Its easy to see the result of that within the Jan 6th insurrection and the continued questioning of the 2020 election in the US.
The genie is out of the bottle; divisive campaigns like the Brexit referendum, left / right splits over pandemic policy and refusal to call a fact a fact are not going away. As we look towards a UK general election and potentially a Trump contested US Presidential election in two years time, social media will be even angrier, even more divisive and even more opinionated than ever. I remember the novelty and semmingly innocent days of Twitter and Facebook when you were telling the world what you were doing, not necessarily what you were thinking. We now not only say what we’re thinking, we amplify what our tribes are group-thinking without adding any real value or commentary.