We tend to paint ourselves in bright, bold shades of red and blue when it comes to the content we’re sharing on our Facebook feed. While members of both parties are likely to share the same local news or “which-character-are-you” quizzes, Facebook users often become highly polarized when it comes to sharing political content.
Interestingly enough, however, there’s more of an overlap of liberal and conservative readership for bipartisan, moderate news sources than these same Facebook users may be willing to admit. A recent article in The Atlantic shows that, according to a ScienceMag study on Facebook activity in 2015, sites like “The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and CNN… are popular among people of both ideologies,” and are frequented for news and political briefings by democrats and republicans alike.
Why, then, are we so prone to polarize? While affiliates of the left and the right may both consult these relatively neutral sources to get their news, the same Atlantic article notes that “people from each side have limited overlap in the news they choose to promote.” More often than not, this power of choice, especially in a context of being broadcast to all one’s Facebook friends, drives us to the opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Part of this polarization is due to the domino effect; often, our feeds are so filled with far-left or far-right content from our more politically-charged Facebook friends that these are the only sources we get exposure to.
Users of the popular social media site, which is streamlined to optimize each user’s experience, are not likely to do much deep digging of their own to find and share news from the neutral sources that they typically consult. Instead, they are far more likely to share outrageous slanders or praises of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, among other biased political content hailing from these heavily partisan sites.
The question at hand, then, is whether or not this tendency to share only the most potent of left- and right-wing news is affecting our political decisions.
With news of the controversial upcoming presidential election swirling around the Facebook realm, it is now more important than ever to recognize the importance of consulting unbiased sources to gather news coverage and political updates.
Many college students have turned to Facebook as a primary news source, and if the only information they’re taking in is far-left or far-right, their understanding of the current political reality is likely going to be skewed in that direction.
Of course, it’s no help that Facebook comes with an inherent social aspect of its own; when certain content is shared onto our feeds, attached with it is a group of Facebook friends who also shared it, liked it, or commented on it. Seeing the political ideologies being shared by members of one’s social circle can have a huge impact on the way people shape their own opinions.
As college students, then, we are now presented with a unique challenge: to break away from this easy-access, highly-polarized Facebook news and rediscover our own political realities and ideologies.
“We either become re-entrenched in our preexisting political beliefs as a reaction to what we see on Facebook or are drawn to ‘the other side's’ still ultra-polarized ideas,” says Sydney Apple, MCAS ‘19.
A member of the Boston College Democrats, Apple has come to recognize that “[breaking] away from these warped sources to truly comprehend an issue…requires a conscious effort and awareness to seek more objective sources and multiple accounts of current events followed by an individual reflection on the issue.”
The aforementioned ScienceMag study shows that members of each main political party may be more moderate than they claim to be, as according to their Facebook news-reading versus news-sharing. By finding more commonality than difference between members of both parties while still maintaining some facet of independent thinking, students can approach the upcoming election with a broadened sense of understanding on each side of the red/blue divide.
In the current era of political chaos and turbulence, young voters have the responsibility to stay informed as they choose which presidential candidate to support. College students, then, as avid Facebook users with a hyper-awareness of their online social presence, must step back from the vacuum of exciting and controversial political content that fills their feeds.
Of course, sharing this content isn’t bad in its own right. It should, however, be coupled with a consultation of unbiased news sources and some sort of individual, ideological reflection.
“This becomes increasingly important as the nation watches anxiously for millennial voter turnout and patterns,” says Apple. “As young people, we have the opportunity and responsibility to stay informed in a way that no generations before us have had. We must avoid the trap of becoming close-minded and single-faceted in order to provide for a productive political future—our future. This means we should get off of Facebook and Twitter and read an Associated Press article or listen to an NPR podcast every once in a while.”