From Topic 2 of the EdX course Engagement in a time of Polarization.
IDEAS: Gilliard and Tufekci both talk about polarization and its profit element. Polarization depends on binaries, on us/them or black/white thinking.
Are there aspects of polarization that are useful? What do these (potential) benefits cost at a societal level? Discuss.
From Gilliard‘s article:
Polarization is by design, for profit.
If polarization wasn’t useful, it likely wouldn’t be used so effectively for profit. The more important question may be ‘for whom is polarization useful?’. Like Stephen argues (and Gilliard as well), polarization has been with us for a very long time. I don’t think it would be terribly difficult to argue that every conflict, from playground squabbles to armed global conflicts, is a result of some sort of polarization, and without some sort of reconciliation, leads to further polarization in a rather vicious circle. However, as I learned in this course (I can’t remember which video), polarization has a specific definition beyond ‘strong disagreement’.
Polarization actually prevents rational discourse as the two poles of common knowledge move further apart. When there is no common basis of knowledge or understanding, building bridges of reconciliation becomes more and more difficult.
Working from this more precise understanding of polarization, I would argue that there are few noble uses for polarization. For Facebook to intentionally polarize society may serve their profit motive, but the resultant loss of rational discourse among people with opposing viewpoints is too great a cost.
Polarization for Profit by Colin Madland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.