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A revealing look at how user behavior is powering deep social divisions online - and how we might yet defeat political tribalism on social media.
In an era of increasing social isolation, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are among the most important tools we have to understand each other. We use social media as a mirror to decipher our place in society, but, as Chris Bail explains, it functions more like a prism that distorts our identities, empowers status-seeking extremists, and renders moderates all but invisible. Breaking the Social Media Prism challenges common myths about echo chambers, foreign misinformation campaigns, and radicalizing algorithms, revealing that the solution to political tribalism lies deep inside ourselves.
Drawing on innovative online experiments and in-depth interviews with social media users from across the political spectrum, this book explains why stepping outside of our echo chambers can make us more polarized, not less. Bail takes you inside the minds of online extremists through vivid narratives that trace their lives on the platforms and off - detailing how they dominate public discourse at the expense of the moderate majority. Wherever you stand on the spectrum of user behavior and political opinion, he offers fresh solutions to counter political tribalism from the bottom up and the top down. He introduces new apps and bots to help listeners avoid misperceptions and engage in better conversations with the other side. Finally, he explores what the virtual public square might look like if we could hit "reset" and redesign social media from scratch through a first-of-its-kind experiment on a new social media platform built for scientific research.
Providing data-driven recommendations for strengthening our social media connections, Breaking the Social Media Prism shows how to combat online polarization without deleting our accounts.
"Masterful . . . immediately relevant. . . . Breaking the Social Media Prism answers important questions about the origins of our current political environment and suggests how existing platforms and reward systems might be redesigned to make things better. Bail’s scientific conclusions are refreshing in a space dominated by informed speculation, and the book offers hope that data-driven solutions can bring us back from the brink."---Jennifer Golbeck, Science
"[Bail] draws on extensive interviews with social media users to explore the profound differences between people’s online and real-life personas, and lucidly details his own efforts to develop a new social media platform that cultivates more civil discourse. This is a persuasive and well-informed look at one of today’s most pressing social issues." -Publishers Weekly
"[A] brilliant case . . . for social science research." -Library Journal
"Provides useful pointers for understanding online (mis)behavior." -Kirkus Reviews