In last few years there has been a tidal wave of polarization sweeping the world. Once you start to look for the patterns, you’ll find them everywhere. Let us start with a mild example
All the blockbuster movies of modern era seem to be about good vs evil. Avengers, Avatar, Dark Knight, Man Of Steel; the list goes on and on. There is no inner conflict, no personal sacrifice, no difficult decisions. Only factions to be formed and to have one person or a group kill and get praised by the world, or be killed and be called a martyr. This plague has swept most of Hollywood franchises. The rationale for this is simple: dumb down the movie to reach widest audience base possible (primarily non-english speaking population). In fact even the process of movie-making as an art-form itself has been compromised by these money making machines (watch these videos to see what I mean). I am digressing, lets move on to next example..
Destin Sandlin YouTube channel: Smarter-Everyday in a conversation with President Barack Obama, discussed issue of polarization in Politics. Obama’s answer was simple and rational: (paraphrased) When people just depend on single source of news which itself might have certain bias, that biased information becomes their belief. This is even supported by statistic in Destin’s subsequent video where US citizen’s support for Democrats vs Republicans has stopped swaying. It has become a game of either-or.
24/7 news channels to click bait sites
There was a time in India when there were only 2 TV channels. The most popular news show during those days was ‘Aaj Tak’. Guess how much time that show lasted each day? 20 minutes! That was the most concise form of news delivery and was an overnight success.
With advent of cable, there were channels broadcasting news 24/7. Today in India, there are close to 40 channels broadcasting 24 hours a day. When entire revenue depends on quantity of news being watched, naturally, the quality degrades. This also gave rise of sensationalizing even minor (sometimes downright weird) piece of information.
This same quantity vs quality factor affects technology news. Sites like Business Insider create headlines for articles containing little (sometimes completely misleading) information. This is why I depend on news aggregator sites like Techmeme which depend on combination of algorithm and human curation.
Twitter and YouTube comments
I think technology is one of the primary reasons of this polarization.
Today, thanks to the internet, every person on the planet has a voice. An ability to express online; with a long list of platforms to choose from.
Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, WhatsApp, WeChat, you name it.
Maybe, when people start sharing information online, both feedback loops of finding like minded people or of debate-invoking comments from the opposing ideologies, reinforce their already biased beliefs. Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle, where-in the comments get harsher and misplaced beliefs become stronger.
Anonymity of the internet adds fuel to this fire. No where is this phenomenon more apparent than YouTube comments. There is even a YouTube video explaining this.
India’s intolerance debate
Recently India had a massive hoopla about intolerance. It all started with couple of small (in context of 1.3 billion people nation) issues but soon exploded with everyone from celebrities, actors, politicians, twitterati, etc weighing in. Most of these comments followed a set pattern - choose your side and bombard the enemy. Either a person is on your side or opposing side. No middle ground, no healthy debates, no facts to support one’s stand. Though the ruling government is accused for these incidents, perceived to be caused by intolerance; the reality I think, is quite murky.
Transparency of information
Nassim Nicholas Taleb said it very aptly in a recent interview
Let me tell you how Twitter has changed our world. In the past you guys — the newspaper business — could control information. All I had to do was take over your paper and then we can hide any information we want. Even in democracies and especially in the United States. Today, thanks to Twitter, citizen journalism is making the world much more transparent. What happened is (because of that) people have an illusion of the world becoming more corrupt when all we are getting is more reporting. There is a huge perception of governance that comes with it.
Road from here
Of course, the solution to this cannot be regulation or blocking of ‘freedom of expression’. That goes against the inherent nature of internet, which is its openness and a level playing field. Instead, we as a collective group need to realize the importance of understanding both sides of the coin before jump-starting debates. An informed, measured approach is always preferable over brash, sudden actions. As a friend of mine likes to say “It doesn’t take much to ruin things..”
Journalism comes with responsibility: unbiased reporting (still passionate enough to bring forth issues being neglected). I think citizen journalism extending from Twitter universe to multitude of comment platforms, need to shoulder same responsibility.