IN THE aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, much blame was heaped on social media for fuelling partisan rancour. Even Mark Zuckerburg, the boss of Facebook, considered the idea that social media may have enabled the spread of "fake news" and helped exacerbate political polarisation. But recent analysis suggests that the part of the electorate that has become more polarised is not one commonly associated with social media platforms, but old people. And social media may provide a partial solution.
The authors of the report, Levi Boxell, Matthew Gentzkow at Stanford University and Jesse Shapiro at Brown University, accept there is strong evidence of growing polarisation in terms of measures like "straight-ticket" voting: selecting one party’s candidates for every race on the ballot. But they argue that demographic evidence points away from social media as a cause. Social media use is concentrated amongst young people—around four out of five adults under the age of 40 used applications like Facebook and Twitter in 2012 compared to one in five of those above 65. The polarisation problem is concentrated amongst older voters. For adults under the age of 40, there is very little evidence of growing...Continue reading