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Opinions of Saturday, 29 August 2020

Columnist: Nico van Staalduinen

Why social media is responsible for most polarisation around the world

File photo: Some social media platforms File photo: Some social media platforms

You don’t need to look at the current elections in the USA and Ghana alone to see that all around the world, people, races, tribes and countries are getting more divided.

Although politicians have used information and just as often misinformation as a tool to prove they are right and their opponents wrong; they are not solely to blame for the worldwide polarisation between people.

Media has been used for the purpose to influence peoples thinking as soon as they were invented.

During World War II both the allied countries and the enemy used mass media to misinform the people of the country they were at war with.

Those days they used the media available namely Radio, Newspapers, Printed leaflets etc.

Today they use the internet.

News and fake news are massively produced and used by almost anybody who wants to make a point on the internet’s social media.

Leaving out real and fake news has also become an industry by itself.

Whereas good, real and quality media and journalist are supposed to investigate both sides and opinions of a story, real and fake news is these days produced by people who just want to make sure, they find confirmation of their already made up position and spread that as news.

What has social media to do with that?

The source of the problem is not the news sector and journalism but business and commerce, let me try to explain that.

People like free news.

However, Social Media and news on your phone, Ipad, Ipod, laptop, desktop don’t come for free.

Some people will say; “no it’s free because I don’t pay for it”. But because you don’t pay for it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost anything.

It’s expensive to produce and distribute all that news and indeed not paid by you but by advertisers who pay the platforms like; Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Instagram and many others to advertise and sell their products, services and…. political campaigns, opinions and others.

The more you, as a free user click on the website or use the app, the more the advertisers pay to the providers.

All these providers have systems in place to collect as much money as possible from their paid advertisers. They have installed logarithms that make sure that you, not as a reader or communicator, but as a potential buyer that you continue clicking and advertisers continue paying them. That is the reason that you get all this “repeatedly start receiving adverts based on your most recent searches.

And that is exactly why the problem starts. Some people will call it useful information, others a harmless side effect, an annoying side effect or an abuse of the users privacy.

The first time this came out massively was when Analitica bought your Facebook information to misinform voters during the American elections in 2016.

The worst part and why I think the Social Media are responsible for polarization around the world are the same logarithms registering websites and products you have visited and use that information to automatically sent you more of the same information.

You can check it easily yourself: try to find a product you like or need and just wait what happens after that.

Almost all websites after that “coincidentally” suddenly show a lot of advert of the product you searched for.

I was looking for a strap of my watch and was bombarded for weeks with adverts of watch straps. Do you know that this was exactly the reason of success of Alibaba and Amazon.
So why do I think social media is responsible for political, racial and other polarization?

Once again, do a simple test yourself: Go to YouTube and search for a speech of Joe Biden and check after that how many Democratic party video’s come up after that. You can check the same on Donald Trump and the Republicans or non-political check and watch one X-Factor show.
And that is exactly the reason why I think social media is highly responsible for the polarisation all around the world.

Instead of showing diversity in their news and information, they continue through their logarithms showing exactly same information and continuing that more and more every time you go back to it.

Already, many people read their preferred newspapers and watch online news along political or lifestyle lines. But thanks to the logarithms that is between 50 and 90% of the information they see and hear. And that is very dangerous.

I receive information of people who get almost all their information via social media and find they are mostly very bad and one sided informed.

The worst results are that more and more people left and right have started thinking about The Big Conspiracy!

I think that is a very bad development not only for the President and World Leader of Conspiracy Mr. Donald Trump, but also in Ghana for NPP, NDC and many others.

I sincerely hope that the world will wake up quick and do something about this dangerous development.