Archetypes of Polarization on Social Media

1. Polarization

Polarization is generally bifurcated into an issue-based or relationship-based analysis: Issue-based polarization focuses on the ideological distance between parties on policy areas. A relationship or identity-based polarization (how we use it in this framework), is more precisely referred to as affective polarization, meaning the increasing dislike, distrust, and animosity towards those from other parties or groups.

2. Archetypes

Because affective polarization is a process, it is best defined by its dynamics, which we snapshot and present as archetypes. Archetypes are models or patterns of behavior, images, or characters that serve as helpful tools for analysis and conceptualization.

3. The framework

So what?

Like any theoretical framework, we hope this one proves useful in practical application. We used this to framework analysis and design in the recent Digital MAPS project, an approach that recognized that the attention-for-profit platform logic of social media leads to segregated networks and spreadable spectacle, with emotive content rewarded by algorithms and therefore more likely to be viral. To concretise this into an approach to analysis, participants were introduced to a framework for problem analysis that specified the roles of social media as a digital conflict driver that powers affective polarization through influencing identity construction, incentives, and discourse, and maps the induced behaviors of social media users into observable archetypes of polarization within the network public sphere. In conducting the social media mapping, participants found concrete signals in their data that pointed to each of these archetypes of polarization. Where there are other ways to organise the findings of the social media mapping process, we find that this categorization points most directly to how research findings eventually informed the design of pilot projects.

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