Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing

Princeton Univ. Apr. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9780691203423. $24.95. SOC SCI
In his latest work, Bail (sociology, Duke Univ.; Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream) has written a social science–oriented work about echo chambers and political polarization. The author frames possible solutions and offers hope for improved communication among people of differing political positions. Most political discourse (or non-discourse) on social media happens on Facebook and Twitter. Bail, while directing the bulk of the exploration toward understanding how people divide over politics on social media, also makes a brilliant case (intentionally, he says) for social science research itself and the ways it uses computational tools to accomplish its goals. After the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Facebook restricted much academic access to its data; Twitter, on the other hand, did not, and Bail and his team developed bots to track and attempt analyses of users’ conversations. This resulted in a lab developing an experimental social media architecture and suggestions for a more civil future. The book’s varied scope makes it hard to summarize, but Bail covers important topics quite well in its pages.
VERDICT A wide-ranging academic work for readers curious about how social media has impacted conversation, online and offline, and the increasing overlap of political engagement and technology.
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