Social media and an increased focus on identity in politics are at the root of current problems in American democracy, says media commentator Bob Garfield.
He's the longtime co-host of the popular WNYC show "On the Media," which is broadcast weekly on more than 400 public radio stations across the country. Garfield's upcoming book, "American Manifesto," which will be published January 14, examines how politics has become so divisive in the U.S. CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett spoke with Garfield at Politics and Prose for this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast.
Garfield argues that increased political division in America predates President Trump's election.
"The problems that we have with American democracy are not confined to our current political insanity," Garfield said.
"We are highly polarized, the national government is essentially dysfunctional, everyone is in our camps. So, we know where to assign blame for much of that. But there are other reasons we're in this fix," Garfield continued, citing the enormous influence of social media as well as human nature, the "innate compulsion to forge an identity."
Garfield defined identity politics as "when your notion of who you are, what group you're a part of, and who you are as an individual, it gets sliced ever, ever, ever thinner," so people then become more attached to "the groups that we identify ourselves as being a part of."
"We are defined by our character and our interest but also by our grievance," Garfield said. He added that it's social media's "business model" to highlight and exacerbate the grievances of different groups. If a person frequents neo-Nazi sites, for example, Facebook will continue to promote ads, information and groups related to what that person has previously searched.
"If you believe in conspiracy theories, or if you collect antique potpourri canisters — whatever it is that you've shown an interest in, especially if you not only look at it online, but if you share it, you're going to get fed more, and more, and more of that, and less, and less, and less of everything else," Garfield said. "It is the ultimate echo chamber."
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