Why we can’t blame social networks for our polarized politics

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

As sentiment about big tech companies has worsened, emerging conventional wisdom has held that social networks are primary causes — and accelerants — of polarization in the United States. The rise of social networks has been roughly correlated with the rise of authoritarians here and elsewhere. Surely social networks, with their algorithmic feeds pushing the most emotional posts to the top of our attention, are warping our politics?

New research suggests that this may not be the case. In a working paper published this year, Levi Boxell, Matthew Gentzkow, and Jesse Shapiro found that polarization had increased faster in the United States than anywhere else — but that in several large, modernized nations with high internet usage,…

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