The official site of the Torch, the student-run newspaper at Glenbrook North High School.


The official site of the Torch, the student-run newspaper at Glenbrook North High School.


The official site of the Torch, the student-run newspaper at Glenbrook North High School.


Social media fuels political polarization

With the 2024 election approaching, social media continues to exacerbate political polarization and misinformation in the United States.

“Selective exposure basically says people pick the media they agree with … It can have damaging effects on how strongly they believe something,” said Emily Van Duyn, associate professor of communications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “So in terms of how that might play out in 2024, or how it might affect an election, if people are only consuming this partisan media because it matches what they think, then they’re potentially getting more polarized and less likely to take a more moderate stance or to consider a candidate other than what they already have.” 

Social media companies use business models that boost content provoking an emotional response. 

“Misinformation, by the very reason that it is not true, can seem novel and interesting and controversial and tends to get a lot of engagement,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director for the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Misinformation makes political polarization worse because it can cause distrust in public figures or institutions.

Junior Len Livshits tries to find sources other than social media to learn about politics, like books or scholarly articles, he said.

“I’d say I try to do as much research as possible because I know a lot of people on social media … won’t include the full story, so I try to, as much as possible, find the full story,” Livshits said.

According to Van Duyn, when voting for a candidate, most people already have a person in mind of who they would vote for, but the question is what media are the middle ground people consuming and how does that influence their vote.

“How are [the middle ground people] going to vote if they’re only going to certain media outlets?” said Van Duyn. “They’re only going to get one side of the story.”

According to Barrett, social media companies have not created political polarization, and they are not the primary source of it.

“The problem that we’re confronting today, and that has grown much worse over the last two decades, is a form of polarization that the political scientists refer to as affective polarization…  and high levels of affective polarization represent the attitude that the other side is not just wrong on the issues, we don’t just disagree with them, [but] we see them as a threat to democracy itself,” Barrett said.

According to Jennifer Stromer-Galley, senior associate dean and professor at Syracuse University, since the beginning of the 20th century, there has not been an information ecosystem in the United States that was so fragmented as it is today.

“There just isn’t the same respect or understanding of the importance of a healthy public sphere by the current technology companies that run the social media platforms,” said Stromer-Galley. “And we don’t have any governmental policies in the United States that are holding the social media platforms to account.”

The First Amendment limits what the federal government can do to regulate speech on social media.

For the rest of this year, there is likely going to be an intensification of the spread of falsehoods, Barrett said. 

“It’s an asymmetric problem,” said Barrett. “It’s mostly on the right in this country … and we have to hope that we don’t end up in a situation like we saw in January 2021.”

It is important to be open to different views when involved in a political disagreement and to maintain exposure.

“I would encourage people to not be inflammatory,” said Van Duyn. “Express themselves. Express their views. Engage in discussion. But make it very much rooted in evidence.”

About the Contributors
Micah Shulman, Editor-in-Chief
Micah Shulman (‘24) is the Editor-in-Chief and has been a member of Torch since his sophomore year. Previous positions: Staff Writer (21-22), News Editor, (22-23), Copy Editor (22-23).
Lara White, Sports Editor
Lara White (‘25) is a Sports Editor and has been a member of Torch since her sophomore year. Previous positions: Staff Writer (22-23).