Update: The term echo chamber describes a concept similar to what I call the “polarized society”.
The impact of Internet on polarized society has probably been vigorously studied in the field of sociology. Nonetheless, here is my personal view on it.
Polarized society, brought by the freedom of Internet
Internet is a great tool for communication. However, I feel that it did not help ease the polarization in the society through open communication. Instead, it actually deepens the already existing polarization because people are free to choose “what they want to know” and select their preferred sources of information. With biased people, biased sources of information and the freedom to choose, it is natural that people will start to form “communities” based on their Internet browsing habits and personal opinions.
While Internet allows them to reach the people with opposing opinions fairly easily, the problem is with the community of people who have the same opinion. For example, when people exchange ideas on Facebook pages or forums, it is likely that these places already have a community in which people’s opinions and beliefs are aligned. Hence, it is difficult to get the message across because of the opposition and pressure from the community.
Current example of such effect
This point can be illustrated with the example of currently happening Hong Kong protest. The online community has largely polarized into 2 groups: The group that categorically supports the protest can be found here (just to list a few):
The group that categorically opposes it, on the other hand, can be found here(just to list a few):
It is natural for people to take sides. However, the polarization comes in when their stands become so strong that they think what they are doing is absolutely correct and the opposing views are absolutely wrong, and refuse to acknowledge the opposing ideas even if they are valid.
This phenomenon is scary. These two groups of people have such conflicting opinions, but yet instead of communicating and trying to resolve the conflicts, they are still reinforcing their own ideas and allowing hatred against the opposing group to grow each day. If this trend does not stop, eventually at some of point of time, they have to face each other upfront and end this conflict. And I don’t think it will end in a peaceful manner.
Still, there are hopes and I can try to point out a few.
The best way is to actively find avenues to communicate and listen. Acknowledge each other’s views and try to leave aside pre-existing mindset and view the issue from a fresh and unbiased point. A good starting point would be to set up or find a more balanced and neutral place to discuss these issues.
The alternative would be to be less engaged in discussions. Give some time for personal reflections instead of building up hatred and enforcing pre-existing opinions. Hopefully when the issue becomes old enough, the conflicts would also fade away.
The not so favourable solution is active segregation. People with different views can try to separate themselves completely from the community with opposing views. This would require some physical movements, hence, may not be feasible at some time.
On a slightly separated note, I have shared an article before that talked about similar issues with arguments and polarization.