Perspective-taking to Reduce Affective Polarization on Social Media

by   Martin Saveski, et al.

The intensification of affective polarization worldwide has raised new questions about how social media platforms might be further fracturing an already-divided public sphere. As opposed to ideological polarization, affective polarization is defined less by divergent policy preferences and more by strong negative emotions towards opposing political groups, and thus arguably poses a formidable threat to rational democratic discourse. We explore if prompting perspective-taking on social media platforms can help enhance empathy between opposing groups as a first step towards reducing affective polarization. Specifically, we deploy a randomized field experiment through a browser extension to 1,611 participants on Twitter, which enables participants to randomly replace their feeds with those belonging to accounts whose political views either agree with or diverge from their own. We find that simply exposing participants to "outgroup" feeds enhances engagement, but not an understanding of why others hold their political views. On the other hand, framing the experience in familiar, empathic terms by prompting participants to recall a disagreement with a friend does not affect engagement, but does increase their ability to understand opposing views. Our findings illustrate how social media platforms might take simple steps that align with business objectives to reduce affective polarization.


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