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Tampa Bay area experts look at role of social media in political polarization after U.S. Capitol riots

Posted at 7:00 PM, Jan 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-07 19:01:03-05

TAMPA, Fla. — After the chaos at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, it left some people wondering what role social media has in sparking political polarization. Some experts say we can’t look at social media as the only thing to blame.

“The more individuals use socially mediated spaces for politics to consume political information, to seek out political information, the more likely they are to be polarized,” said Dr. Joshua Scacco, an associate professor of political communication at the University of South Florida.

Scacco says it’s not that social or digital media were the cause of what happened at the Capitol, but instead, he says they are an accelerant to behaviors and attitudes that were already in place in the American public going back 30 or 40 years.

When looking at digital platforms, Scacco says what you have is an opportunity to “opt-in” to things you fundamentally agree with.

“Ultimately what happens is when you get individuals who have a like-minded kind of attitude, a like-minded kind of cause in the same place… ultimately what you’re going to get is you’re going to get a reinforcement effect of people’s existing ideas, and sometimes what you get is a strengthening of those ideas as well,” said Scacco.

Following the violence in Washington, D.C., Mark Zuckerberg took to Facebook Thursday to say they’ve extended the block to President Trump’s Facebook and Instagram “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”

The President had also been temporarily suspended on Twitter. The social media company shared if tweets weren’t removed, his account would stay locked. Scacco points to private companies having their own terms and conditions.

“Ultimately what that means is speech within these spaces is not necessarily protected speech in all instances,” said Scacco.

Scacco says you should look to trusted sources of information. He says if you find something that seems too good to be true or it conforms too much to what you already believe, you might want to seek out another source too.

“We can disagree, but just because we disagree, it doesn’t make you my enemy,” said Scacco. “As a society, the only way democracy works is if we have a common set of facts and if we come together on a common set of values.”