Over the past several years we have seen political opinions pull further and further to the right or to the left.
Trump supporters call Hillary the worst candidate ever, a liar, a criminal while others say Trump is literally Hitler or that he is extremely racist. But the reason for these opinions isn’t entirely due to the candidates themselves. In fact, one of the largest contributors to how we think politically is social media algorithms.
For those unfamiliar, many social media sites use an algorithm to determine what type of content is likely to keep you on their platform. These companies say they are trying to find a way to deliver more of the content people like and less of what they don’t find relevant. When a user interacts with a piece of content the algorithm decides that the user finds it relevant and shows more of the same. For example “Donald Trump is Racist” may appear on your feed from a website and upon clicking, liking, or commenting you tell the platform that this content is relevant and in turn they deliver more content from that same website.
This gives media companies an incentive to create content they think you will engage with. At first this was clickbait; titles like “THIS will literally freak you out!” drove people to engage with the content out of curiosity. However another form of content emerged, political pandering.
Realizing that users are likely to share and engage with content that validates their opinions or enrages them, media sites decided to create what they call “mission driven storytelling” or they decided to do what they call “siding with the audience.” The result is a media company that pushes harder and harder to one-up itself in an effort to keep you interested. Articles that once read “Trump is a racist” have become “Trump is LITERALLY Hitler.”
Due to these algorithms and the trends they create we see journalists who don’t believe in objectivity gaining more money and power for their platforms. New media sites receive investment and in turn produce more politically extreme content. (I am not saying that having an opinion is news is wrong, just that we are seeing the lines blurred between op-ed and fact based news articles.)
In the past there were relatively few news organizations. This meant that in order to make the most money possible a company had to produce content that would be somewhere closer to the political center in an attempt to reach the most readers/viewers. Now, obviously media companies have long produced content with the intent to pander to their audience but it would seem that today more than ever our social platforms are pushing us further and further to the extreme left or the extreme right resulting in candidates who say and do the most outlandish and shocking things in order to garner the most attention.
Its hard to know exactly what is in our future but we can look to the search and social algorithms and make predictions based on what content platforms will support. It is likely that these trends will continue and as more and more people use platforms like Facebook as their primary news source I can only say that our future looks exceedingly grim.