Seminars & Events
Seminar: Kevin Durrheim – Language versus interaction networks of social media: The polarizing potential of echo chambers
Title: Language versus interaction networks of social media: The polarizing potential of echo chambers
Abstract: Social media networks filter information by connecting like-minded individuals together. These “echo chambers” have been linked to rising social polarization. Some work demonstrates the opposite: that social media exposes individuals to more diversity of opinion, which is depolarizing. This study reconciles these contrary expectations, showing that depolarizing exposure to other opinions can occur while the language of social interaction polarizes. We employ a machine learning method (word embeddings) to represent the structure of the US twitter vaccination debate in terms of language used by the participants. We then compare the structure of these “speaker landscapes” with retweet networks before and after a polarizing event, the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic. We find that the speaker landscape became bipolarized while the interaction network became depolarized, promoting exposure to diverse opinions. Our results show how language is used for intergroup differentiation in polarizing debate.
Bio: Kevin Durrheim is Distinguished Professor in Psychology at the University of Johannesburg. He has broad interests in the field of social psychology of intergroup relations, and a program of research related to racism, segregation and social change. His co-authored and co-edited books include The Routledge International Handbook of Discrimination, Prejudice and Stereotyping (2021), Qualitative studies of Silence (2019), Race Trouble (2011) and Racial Encounter (2005). He has also published South African methods textbooks, Research in Practice and Numbers, Hypotheses and Conclusions.
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