Through the previous two blog posts, ‘Politics in the Age of Facebook‘ and ‘Sticking to the Status Quo?‘ it is clearly evident that Facebook affects political opinion by promoting contagion of opinions and polarising perspectives. However, these posts failed to recognise the dangerous implications this affect may have.
In examining the polarisation that Facebook has on political opinions, it revealed that groups and pages, which individuals followed as they aligned with their own personal opinions allowed for the acceptance of information to support their own opinions regardless of its accuracy. This is illuminated by Christine Emba of the Washington Post who presented research which shows Facebook users tendency to accept inaccurate, false information shared in echo chambers in support of their political opinion. This proves to be problematic as, “the tendency to promote one’s favoured narrative is natural, but too much confirmation distances us from other perspectives and makes us unable to see the truth when it’s finally presented”.
This is evident in the example of ‘Pauline Hanson/ One Nation Supporters & Discussion Forum’ presented in ‘Sticking to the Status Quo?’ which presents both inaccurate and demoralising opinions in various posts as they favour the dominant political opinions and values of the group, which include stronger immigration policies. This is revealed in the image below which was explained in ‘Sticking to the Status Quo?’.
By looking at the comments, which some may consider to be debate, presented in the images above it clearly illuminates the prevalence of Facebook users accepting inaccurate information, including the idea that the United Nations would be against promoting the safety of refugees or favour death of persecuted individuals. This as well as derogatory, degrading language seen, including “black scum”, favours the dominant political opinions of the echo chamber which includes perceptions of Muslim immigration as encouraging “threatening migrants”. These negative political opinions which Facebook is able to encourage and cultivate online through its polarising affect on political opinions within Australia is then able to translate into real life discrimination and xenophobia. This correlation between the affect of Facebook on political opinion and societal perceptions is distinguished by professor Andrew Markus, who draws links between support for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and the alienation and discrimination of significant sections of the Muslim community as a polarisation in attitudes creates a disparity in the fight between multiculturalism and free speech.
However, Dr. Ian Cook reveals challenging this online polarisation will be an ongoing struggle as engaging in politics online will continue, stating,
“It’s hard to develop sophisticated and nuanced positions on any form of social media, but they are hard to achieve via the mass media too. We can’t go back. We’re not going to go back to using the traditional mass media to get our news.”
This research illuminates that in order to widen societies scope of political opinions, as well as the consideration and acceptance of a diversity of ideas, Facebook users must first become aware of the affect of contagion when engaging with politics on the platform. This awareness must then translate into an active effort to consume a wider spectrum of political content on Facebook, which may present many different theoretical and practical approaches to politics creating a more diverse and accepting society, free from being negatively affected by a bubble of polarising political opinions online.