Consistency. Public consistency. These are the polarizing agents of the Facebook world that are keeping people so deeply divided. There was once a time when political beliefs were held in private. Perhaps some discussion with friends, family, neighbors would disclose elements of one’s beliefs. For the most part, however, very few people publicly broadcast these beliefs to extended family, colleagues, acquaintances, of mere “friends of friends”. Sharing with such a broad audience becomes dangerous because our desire to appear consistent, especially within the context of others’ perception of us, drives us further down the path that appears to fulfill this consistency. Sometimes at a great cost.
In the Korean war, American POWs were made to write pro-communist, or at least conciliatory essays. The act of writing something down, especially something that could later be referenced as evidence of a tendency toward a belief, was key to changing the POWs minds. Not only their attitudes, but their perceptions of themselves. These essays were posted around camp and broadcast on the camp radio, which created a public perception as well. Acquiescence to peer pressure is well known, and this can be applied to appearing consistent with public perceptions about oneself as well.
Facebook and Twitter are platforms where people are constantly sharing, commenting upon, and “liking” articles and other media that can be aligned with a certain set of beliefs. So all at once, with minimal effort, we have a persistent public record indicating our tendency toward a belief. There is no room to change your mind. There is no private discourse where an evolution of ideas and beliefs can occur. There is only a funnel of actions where you swirl further and further down into a position that may be much more extreme and inflexible than would ordinarily be possible for most people.
The Solution? “Think twice, click once.” :)