Twitter’s Flawed Solution to Political Polarization

On social media, encountering opposing views can make people become even more wedded to their own.

.. Jack Dorsey, repeatedly denied that Twitter’s algorithms are biased against conservative voices. His denials echoed recent statements he has made about the importance of exposing people to opposing political views. Indeed, he announced last month that Twitter was experimenting with new features that would actively expose people to such views.
Mr. Dorsey’s goal of reducing political polarization is commendable. But his proposed solution — disrupting our social media “echo chambers” — may actually make things worse. Forcing Twitter users to encounter political views they disagree with, my research shows, can make them become even more wedded to their own.
.. Scholars were once optimistic that social media could increase bipartisan dialogue by allowing virtually anyone to engage in public debate about politics. Yet mounting evidence suggests that Facebook and Twitter have allowed Republicans and Democrats to further segregate themselves.
.. Then we paid half of them to follow for one month a bot we created that retweeted messages from elected officials and other opinion leaders from the other political party.
.. Instead of reducing political polarization, being exposed to opposing ideas increased it. Republicans who followed a Democratic bot for one month expressed social policy views that were substantially more conservative at the conclusion of the study.
.. Why did some social media users’ political views become more entrenched after we disrupted their echo chambers? One possibility is the structure of Twitter itself. Social psychologists have long argued that positive, intimate contact between members of rival groups across an extended period can produce compromise. But that is not what Twitter offers. Its character limits — combined with the anonymous, spontaneous nature of so many exchanges on the platform — simply may not be conducive to mutual understanding.
.. a first step should be for Twitter to experiment with removing its character limits. Allowing people to voice their opinions in detail will not improve the civility of discourse by itself, but it may facilitate a better competition of ideas and increase the possibility for Democrats and Republicans to understand one another.
.. Twitter should not force its users to view messages from a political party they oppose. Instead, it should create an alert system that makes people aware when they are being exposed predominantly to one point of view. The most pernicious effect of social media echo chambers may be that most people are unaware of how much their political views are influenced by selective exposure to information.

Finally, if Twitter is resolved to expose users to opposing political views, it should focus on doing so with specific issues. Republican and Democratic Twitter users appear unready to have broad conversations about politics. But breaking up the echo chambers that prevent cross-party discussion about market-based solutions to climate change, for example, might be more successful.

Rules Won’t Save Twitter. Values Will.

Values would require that Twitter make tough calls on high-profile and obviously malevolent figures, including tossing them off as a signal of its intent to keep it civil.

And Mr. Jones is not even an edge case: His bilious lies, including that the murders of the Sandy Hook Elementary children were “synthetic, completely fake, with actors,” clearly sully the platform.

Twitter has certainly appeared to have adjusted the rules for Donald Trump. While the president has not descended down the same demented rabbit hole as Alex Jones, many argue that he has violated various Twitter rules, by threatening violence (he did so against North Korea and later Iran) and by systematic harassment of people (the list is too long).

.. Yes, many sources assure me that there is indeed a pull-emergency-brake plan for him, but it hasn’t come to that. Yet.

.. In any case, if you get kicked off Twitter, you can always unload your twisted mind on your very own website.

..  His intent was to tamp down widespread rumors that Twitter was “shadow banning” — who comes up with these creepy terms? — some conservative users. The idea is that their posts mysteriously don’t show up in search results. Twitter did not do that, Mr. Dorsey said, “period.”

.. It was opened by Mr. Dorsey, who sat cross-legged on the stage, leading a 10-minute meditation for his most fervent followers — Twitter’s employees flown in from across the globe.

.. The event had a very Silicon Valley feel-good vibe, and veered awfully close to becoming a spoof of itself.