How minimizing conflicts could lead to polarization on social media: An agent-based model investigation

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Social media represent an important source of news for many users. They are, however, affected by misinformation and they might be playing a role in the growth of political polarization. In this paper, we create an agent based model to investigate how policing content and backlash on social media (i.e. conflict) can lead to an increase in polarization for both users and news sources. Our model is an advancement over previously proposed models because it allows us to study the polarization of both users and news sources, the evolution of the audience connections between users and sources, and it makes more realistic assumptions about the starting conditions of the system. We find that the tendency of users and sources to avoid policing, backlash and conflict in general can increase polarization online. Specifically polarization comes from the ease of sharing political posts, intolerance for opposing points of view causing backlash and policing, and volatility in changing one’s opinion when faced with new information. On the other hand, it seems that the integrity of a news source in trying to resist the backlash and policing has little effect.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2022

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