Could Facebook provide an antidote to political polarization?

Credit:
Flickr/Michael
Mandiberg
. Some rights reserved.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham
Lincoln  

When a gunman
opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball team
practicing on
a suburban Virginia field on June 14 2017, national attention was once again focused on the dangerous level of political
polarization in the USA.
The attack wounded Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise and four other people,
but the outrage quickly passed as shock jocks, social media and even some
political leaders returned to their divisive rhetoric.

Polarization in America is not a myth—it’s been
trending upwards for decades. As academics Alan
Abramowitz and Kyle Saunders have shown
:

“Since the 1970s, ideological polarization has
increased dramatically among the mass public in the United States…There are
now large differences in outlook between Democrats and Republicans, between red
state voters and blue state voters, and between religious voters and secular
voters. These divisions are not confined to a small minority of activists—they involve
a large segment of the public and the deepest divisions are found among the
most interested, informed, and active citizens.”

Many of us thought that Barack Obama was an
inspiring figure, and that, as the first African-American President, he would
unite the nation and reverse this trend. It didn’t turn out that way, and now
an even more polarizing figure sits in the White House—President Donald J. Trump.

According to Stanford
University’s Matthew Gentzkow
, 2016 was:

“the year Republican primary voters applauded
proposals to build fences on the border and to ban Muslims…the year that the
leading Democrat in New Hampshire polls was a self-proclaimed socialist who
favored 90 percent top tax rates and a $15 per hour national minimum wage…the
year we all decided once and for all that those on the other side of the
political divide didn’t just have different…

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