The information revolution ushered in by the proliferation of social media has led to a display of individual bias like never before. While the positive benefit of interconnectivity has led to a huge dent in ignorance, it has also served as a showcase for human weaknesses, disagreements and tribalism. Like-minded advocates find each other and feed off each other’s views, repeating them, sharing them and paraphrasing them like never before. While this epidemic of enlightenment may in itself be viewed as an inevitable and perhaps positive factor in our evolution as a species, the short-term costs are dear. The negative effects of this phenomenon are no more obvious than in the extreme political tribalism that is on full display in American politics, and in fact in political landscapes the world over.
Researchers at Standford University recently published a study in the American Journal of Political Science, entitled “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines”. This study, conducted with 2000 participants in four studies, determined that the intense feelings of loyalty or pride that people have for their political affiliation—and, by extension, the negative feelings they have toward those they see as their opponents—has intensified. This is being further exacerbated with the increase in the mediums of delivery, volumes of, and variety in points of view of information shared via new and traditional media.
This has become a powerful predictor of behavior, even outside the realm of politics. The researchers believe that political affiliation now has more influence on what people do and how they behave than race does. In other words, political polarization and its effects today are a greater contributor to social disharmony than racial differences are.
In our small society, where in the past race was less of a divisive issue than say economic power, and where political membership between red and blue has always been a determiner of said economic power; this phenomenon is even more pronounced. In the case of traditional media, it was always clear that the Belize Times was blue, and the Pulse (now the Guardian) was red, but nowadays even the traditional so-called independent papers are becoming decidedly one side or the other. The Zinc Fence crew, for example, seems to have abandoned their black-power roots, save for the occasional rambles by its founder in his weekly time warp piece reminiscing about his great UBAD days, in favor of an anti-anything government stance.
Local television programming is nothing but tribal. Countless talk shows (and the numbers keep growing), do nothing but complain against, or advocate for a political side. Even the news features are so editorialized that in between the sensationalized crime headliners, the average viewer gets very little in terms of balanced reporting of situations or events anymore.
The recent carefully choreographed “interviews with Lord Ashcroft” by Channel 5, which is owned by his company, conducted by his loyal employee, Marleni Cuellar, would be laughable, were not the topic of his economic stranglehold on our small nation such a grave one that can have serious debilitating effects on our future as a nation.
The Tribalism on Social Media is so thick that it stinks, and the political and social bias that it perpetuates is dividing our society faster than even a pre-general election season will ever do. The advent of social media sources such as Breaking Belize News and numerous purported news outlets; in a medium where no controls exist to police and prevent things like false reporting, personal attacks, fake news, and libel is a frightening evolution of media and the effects it can have on our society. Media today is cheap, it relies not on finances to proliferate, but on the sensationalism that drives its distribution, which is as simple as encouraging persons to hit a “share” or “forward” button. With the number of eyes glued to small screens increasing exponentially, the growth trajectory of this multi-headed uncontrollable monster is unstoppable. As US President Trump has proven, he can set the tone for each days news with the simple tapping out of a single sentence on Twitter at 3:00 am.
I heard the Attorney General speak about the move toward criminalizing Cyber-Bullying, in particular as it relates to protection of minors. While that is a commendable effort and one that I will be personally involved in; we must be cognizant of the impact that political and social tribalism has on how we interact with each other, on social media or otherwise.
We are quick to share a comment that supports our bias or our warped sense of entertainment without thinking of the impact it has on our society or on the individuals that are involved. Attorney Lisa Shoman, my friend, despite our political differences, a social media giant, and an admirable advocate for social rights, was correct in pointing out the damage caused by social media pages like the infamous Belize Cheaters, and by the action of a local newspaper to opportunistically sensationalize that issue with graphic imagery on their front page. This problem, however goes far beyond just the protection of human rights, and goes to the heart of our society’s tailspin into the chasm of hate, divisiveness and mean-spiritedness, now using easily accessible and sharable media as a tool of harm against our fellow man, women, child, often in the name of political agitation, religion, or a warped sense of personal satisfaction.
Media, social and otherwise, has its purposes and those purposes can be useful as a tool to expose and eradicate actions that need to be put to an end for the betterment of our country.
Vent all you want, promote yourself with selfies, sell your products, but for goodness sakes leave the harmful divisiveness of tribalism and personal attacks out of it.