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  • Writer's pictureSean

The Social Media Prism

Updated: May 19, 2021

"The deeper source of our addiction to social media, I've concluded, is that it makes it so much easier for us to do what is all too human: perform different identities, observe how other people react, and update our presentation of self to make us feel like we belong."

It's upon those words that we dive into Chris Bail's Breaking the Social Prism, a book graciously sent to me by @princetonupress.

First off let me say that this book was excellent. A deeper look into polarization on social media platforms, misperceptions we may have about how to solve it, and fundamentally what drives it. His use of the prism analogy is fitting as he notes we look to social media as a mirror and reflection of who we and others are but in fact, are looking through a prism that distorts our sense of self and each other.

We see hostility out there but often this stems out of people who may feel they have very little control over their own lives. Polarization grows much like a cult as status within your set group grows. Extremism slowly becomes normalized because it garners the most attention while also creating an illusion that the opposing party is in fact the one becoming more extreme as they respond. This creates a platform where the discussion is run by two extreme sides with moderates disengaging due to past experiences of being attacked or simply being exhausted of where we are.

Interestingly enough, recent studies show that those who held extreme views became even more polarized after being exposed to ideas of the opposite side. The idea that we just need to educate ourselves seems to run counter to the evidence.

The reality is that moderates must come back to the table and ultimately be willing to fight for their own beliefs. Bail notes that making people aware of misperceptions has a strong depolarizing effect despite it feeling like you are always being attacked in the middle.

"Moderate people need to decide which issues are so important to them that they won't allow extremists to speak on their behalf."

If you've read other books on social media I'd highly recommend this one as a follow-up. Some excellent studies and new evidence to help simmer things down!


If you are looking to go down the rabbit hole check out Roger McNamee's Zucked and if you are ready to break up with your phone altogether then I'd suggest Catherine Price's How to Break Up With Your Phone.

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