Online Occupation

Is social media the space where complexity about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes to die? My latest on the ways in which we can maintain complexity in our beleaguered and polarized online universe (with a little help from Whitman, Russell, Orwell and Franklin).

It’s a paradox of sorts that over time, as protracted conflicts become objectively more complex – as more actors and issues become involved – they are experienced in an ever-simplified manner. Identities are polarized between righteous victims (us) and evil perpetrators (them). Conflict narratives become less tolerant of nuance and contradiction. And social networks increasingly become ideologically homogenous.

Compounding the situation, in the past few years, most of the major social media websites have begun using filtering engines that personalize the data we’re exposed to. In effect, they create a tailor-made virtual reality. This process is exacerbated by a pycho-social process whereby many social media users self-select an ideologically homogenous community of friends — a process in social network theory known as homophily.

Both processes mean that people are less likely to be exposed to alternative narratives and views and are more likely to think that their reinforced perspectives, and friends, accurately represent the whole of reality. Such social networking trends reinforce conflict narratives, producing simplistic, rigid and polarizing stories.

This collapse of complexity is bad news as a wide-body of research suggests that increasing levels of complexity is essential for alleviating intergroup division and violence.

So what can we do about it?

To read more, click here.


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