"A revealing look at how user behavior is powering deep social divisions online—and how we might yet defeat political tribalism on social media"
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 Chris 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 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, this book 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.
“Masterful. . . .immediately relevant. . . . Breaking the Social Media Prism answers important questions about the origins of our current political environment and suggests how existing platforms and reward systems might be redesigned to make things better. Bail’s scientific conclusions are refreshing in a space dominated by informed speculation, and the book offers hope that data-driven solutions can bring us back from the brink.” – Jenn Golbeck, Science
“Smartly and engagingly challenges assumptions about how [ideological and cultural echo] chambers work.” –Frank Bruni, New York Times
"Surprising. . . . Bail’s findings point to an interesting conclusion for the building of society: when it comes to bridging differences, in-person contact really helps."—Nathan Heller, The New Yorker
"In this important and accessible book, Chris Bail shows that if you want to understand what's going on online, don't focus on people's exposure to information. Keep your eye on their quest for status and group identity. The book is rich with insights for anyone who uses social media and is essential reading for anyone who wants to improve our democracy."—Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
"In this brilliant book, Chris Bail—one of the world's leading computational social scientists—brings deep sociological knowledge, cutting-edge research, and profound empathy to one of society's most vexing problems: the increasingly polarized and uncivil nature of political discussion. Engagingly written and brimming with insight, Breaking the Social Media Prism is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand how we got here and how we might escape."—Duncan J. Watts, author of Everything Is Obvious
"[Bail] draws on extensive interviews with social media users to explore the profound differences between people’s online and real-life personas, and lucidly details his own efforts to develop a new social media platform that cultivates more civil discourse. This is a persuasive and well-informed look at one of today’s most pressing social issues."—Publishers Weekly
"Every one of Bail's chapters threads together multiple lines of thought — some dating back decades or centuries — interweaving the frontiers of online social science research with the traditions they emerge from. . . . Bail's analysis of the problem of online polarization is clarifying and compelling."—Salon
"Bail delivers an efficient, engaging treatise on the polarizing effects of social media in the USA. . . . he expertly marshals evidence from his own research and computational social science to demonstrate how common narratives of social media miss the mark. . . . [A] thoughtful, compelling story of polarization on social media. . . .[Breaking the Social Media Prism] adds admirable to the dialog on political polarization. It synthesizes a body of research—both seminal and emerging into a coherent picture, while making its own contributions. The prose is playfully conversational, accessible to a lay audience, and at fewer than 150 pages in the main text, refreshingly concise."—Jason Jeffrey Jones, Social Forces
"A tour de force. Breaking the Social Media Prism is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand our current political climate and engage in positive social and political change."—Mabel Berezin, Cornell University, author of Illiberal Politics in Neoliberal Times: Culture, Security, and Populism in the New Europe
"A pathbreaking book about how social media distorts our view of politics, polarization, and people, including those we define ourselves against. Breaking the Social Media Prism illuminates a path out of the echo chamber and offers new ways to see the world, going beyond the numbers to reveal the gap between the things we say online and the things we do in real life."—Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces for the People
"Incredibly powerful. In this timely, well-written, and brilliant book, Christopher Bail explains why it is up to people, not platforms, to fix the problem of social media echo chambers distorting American politics."—James N. Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University
"[A] brilliant case . . . for social science research."—Library Journal
"Provides useful pointers for understanding online (mis)behavior."—Kirkus Reviews