The Role of Media in Political Polarization| The SPIR Framework of Social Media and Polarization: Exploring the Role of Selection, Platform Design, Incentives, and Real-World Context

Elizabeth Harris, Steve Rathje, Claire E. Robertson, Jay J. Van Bavel


Because of the rapid growth of social media, nearly 4 billion people now have online accounts where they engage with their social network, learn about the news, and share content with other people. The rapid growth of this technology has raised important questions about its potential impact on political action and polarization. We propose a framework to address how Selection, Platform Design, Incentives, and Real-World Context (the SPIR framework) might explain social media’s role in exacerbating polarization and intergroup conflict. Rather than simply asking whether social media as a whole causes polarization, we examine how each of these processes can spur polarization in certain contexts. Specifically, we explain how these features of social media can act as an accelerant, amplifying divisions in society between social groups and spilling over into offline behavior. We discuss how interventions might target each of these factors to mitigate (or enhance) polarization.


polarization, social media, intergroup conflict, Internet

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