How Social Media Causes People to Choose Sides by Overwhelming the Human Brain

The incredibly insightful animated video series Kurzgesagt looks at the role social media has played in sowing tribal discord around the world and how the use of filter bubbles only makes us see the worst in each other.

Online filter bubbles have been the prevailing explanation as to why we’ve all started hating each other more over the last two decades. If that’s not the case, shouldn’t the internet open our minds and make us more empathetic with each other? Unfortunately your brain is stupid.

They further note that the human brain is overwhelmed with too much information at one time without the lubrication of the vital social glue that connects human beings.

Conflict and disagreement are not a bad thing per se. Tension over how we should live can create new and wonderful things. … But we also need social glue to our societies together because our brains don’t care about the meta level of humanity but about being safe in a tribe. Until about 20 years ago we did something truly new, that hit our brains like a freight train: the  social media internet, the digital town square.

They explain the concept of social sorting, a more extensive form of tribalism in which individuals grow increasingly partisan and use their disagreement with others as a means of identifying themselves and others.

On the digital town square you encounter people that express opinions or share information that clash with your worldview. But unlike your neighbor, they don’t root for your local sports club. You are missing the local social glue your brain needs to align with them. For your brain, the disagreement between yourself and them becomes a central part of their identity.  And this makes it less likely that you will seriously consider their position or opinion in the future.

Overwhelming Social Media

Summing it up very nicely, they suggest creating smaller online social groups to lessen the social sorting and just enjoy the virtual company of others.

Because what our stupid brains don’t realize is that we are actually all on the same team: Humanity, on a wet rock speeding through space in a universe that doesn’t think about us. We are all in this together – but until our brains adjust to being able to deal with that, we might be better off being a tiny bit separated.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.