Can We Fix Social Media?: A Discussion with Christopher A. Bail

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In an era of increasing social isolation, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are among the most important tools we have to understand each other. We use social media as a mirror to decipher our place in society but, as Christopher A. Bail explains, it functions more like a prism that distorts our identities, empowers status-seeking extremists, and renders moderates all but invisible. Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing (Princeton University Press, 2021) challenges common myths about echo chambers, foreign misinformation campaigns, and radicalizing algorithms, revealing that the solution to political tribalism lies deep inside ourselves.

Drawing on innovative online experiments and in-depth interviews with social media users from across the political spectrum, this book explains why stepping outside of our echo chambers can make us more polarized, not less. Bail takes you inside the minds of online extremists through vivid narratives that trace their lives on the platforms and off—detailing how they dominate public discourse at the expense of the moderate majority. Wherever you stand on the spectrum of user behavior and political opinion, he offers fresh solutions to counter political tribalism from the bottom up and the top down. He introduces new apps and bots to help readers avoid misperceptions and engage in better conversations with the other side. Finally, he explores what the virtual public square might look like if we could hit “reset” and redesign social media from scratch through a first-of-its-kind experiment on a new social media platform built for scientific research.

Providing data-driven recommendations for strengthening our social media connections, Breaking the Social Media Prism shows how to combat online polarization without deleting our accounts.

Marshall Poe is the founder and editor of the New Books Network. He can be reached at marshallpoe@newbooksnetwork.com

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