Social media may be widening the political divide in America

Reporter: Morgan Rynor Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
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A clear divide in our country now stands after the attack at the Capitol on Wednesday. But did misinformation spreading across social media become the catalyst for this attack?

There is so much information out there including pictures and memes that make it onto our Twitter and Facebook feeds. Some of these photos claim that a group of men at the Capitol were Antifa members when that just isn’t the case.

Those who study human behavior nationally and in Florida say social media is not the cause of the divide but it has helped the spread. And, it played a role in the Capitol Hill riot.

One second. One click. Then the person on your timeline that you disagree with is gone.

Dr. Laura Streffeler is a licensed mental health counselor. “People don’t necessarily go on social media for new information. They go on social media to read information about what they already know or believe,” said Dr. Streffeler.

Streffeler is not alone in saying that social media did not cause the divide in this country, but Twitter, Facebook, Parler and Instagram certainly helped to grow them.

Chris Wright-Isak is a marketing and advertising professor at FGCU. “They have algorithms that build on what you searched before. And they will send you more of that,” he said.

Experts in misinformation say the process is familiar now, where people who want to believe something find validation via social media.

Katie Taylor is an avid Trump Supporter. “There is no way anyone will ever convince me Joe Biden got more votes than President Trump,” said Taylor.

Jarod Holt monitors extremist behavior online for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab.

“There were discussions about trying to get weapons into D.C. There were conversations about surrounding the Capitol,” said Holt. “And then in the last few days, the discussion shifted into even more extreme territory about taking matters into their own hands.”

Now we have to ask: is there a solution to all of this?

Wright-Isak says there eventually needs to be some form of regulation. “You have to eventually enact regulations that require the information to be labeled one truthful or not,” he said.

But, is that realistic? Could it ever happen? He says it happened in other industries and mediums, so yes it’s possible. “It happened in advertising. It happened in radio and television. What do you think the Federal Communications Commission is? It’s a watchdog for truth,” Wright-Isak said.

Social Scientists hope that Wednesday’s events serve as a wake-up call. Yet, they aren’t too optimistic. Right now, they say too many people are simply switching to other platforms to find what they want to hear, where there’s no line between fact and fiction.

For now, we just have to wait and see if regulations will be imposed.

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