Political Polarization

Alex Pivaral

Political polarization, when people adopt extreme political views from opposing sides of an opinion, is very common in US politics. The majority of the country is split by their own beliefs. It may seem like your side is not only the moral side of the political spectrum, but also the only side that no one should question. This way of thinking could lead to negative viewpoints towards those who have different opinions. But what if I tell you that it’s all artificially manufactured by tech corporations feeding you extreme views in the name of profit, also known as an echo chamber. 


The idea of a political echo chamber seems harmless: you get to listen only to the ones who are on your side of politics and always rely on them for the truth. But the problem with this is that the source that people see as reliable can be problematic and divisive. The left wing sources can say that the right wants to kick out minorities and the right wing sources say the left wants to open borders. Even though these are ridiculous claims, they can still convince their audience that what they are saying is true. But what creates these echo chambers? The answer is obvious: social media. 


Social media is the best way to share information with others, and  they can also recommend content based on your interests. With social media, people can send vlogs, memes, sports news, and more. The problem, however, is that the algorithm can choose a political ideology for you based on your personal information (location, gender, personal interest, etc.). Even if you don’t follow politics now, if you decide that you’re going to vote a certain way, the algorithm can put you inside of an echo chamber based on what you already believe. According to PBS, “The goal, of course, is to keep you coming back—to keep turning profits. That means filtering out anything you might deem a waste of time until the algorithm has effectively personalized your experience of a platform, showing you, in theory, only the things you’d want to see”.


Tech corporations may act like they care about political polarization, but in reality, they have been encouraging hate speech for profits. A Facebook whistleblower told  The Verge that “[the algorithms] are meant to drive engagement and the company has found that the best engagement is the kind instilling fear and hate in users”. Facebook has purposely created political polarization for their own financial gain. What we saw in the Capitol Riot in January, 6 2021 proves this point. Facebook pretended they would take the riot seriously on the news, but behind the scenes, they didn’t make any changes to its algorithm.


The algorithm does not only affect the minority, it affects millions and can even choose the election in their favor. Tech companies like Google have the absolute power to rig elections in their favor. According to The Guardian, “[Robert Epstein] believes, based on systematic research, that Google has the power to rig elections through something he calls the search engine manipulation effect (SEME)”. Because Google is closed source (only the employees can view its code), nobody really knows what’s going on inside, but there is evidence Google recommends extreme views via search results.


No matter which political side you’re on, you are not immune to political polarization. The algorithm can use your data from whatever service you’re using and recommend you content that has extreme versions of your political views. Usually, these views are extremely polarizing and often put down the opposite side of the political spectrum to get us engaged.


What Can We Do?

It can be seen as hard or impossible to not be radicalized from social media, but what if I told you there was a way to avoid radicalization. In order to not get politically polarized, I recommend three ways. The first way is to research both sides. There are alot of people with different perspectives and rejecting all but yours is not a good way to research politics. What I recommend is to change the way you search the web. Use privacy friendly search engines such as Duckduckgo or Ecosia, so you will get a neutral perspective whenever you search. While using those search engines I recommend using Brave as the main browser (also turn off cookies). If you want to have a guaranteed full perspective, without any algorithm tracking you, I recommend using Linux as the main operating system (any distro) and everything else I just recommended.


Side note: I would highly discourage you from researching politics on TikTok since they only allow less than three minute videos, (which only give you  little information) and is also  heavily reliant on the algorithm.