The Filter in Our (?) Heads: Digital Media and Polarisation
Climate change, Brexit, Trump, COVID, Ukraine: there is hardly a major topic in contemporary public debate online that does not attract heated discussion, entrenched partisanship, widespread misinformation, and conspiracy theorists. Rational, evidence-based contributions often fail to cut through, while affective polarisation is prevalent, and difficult to overcome.
The facile, simplistic view of these developments is that digital and social media have disrupted the traditional public sphere, enveloped us all in ideologically homogenous ‘echo chambers’ and ‘filter bubbles’, and thereby ushered in the post-truth age – but such technologically determinist explanations have been rightly debunked for failing to account for the full complexity of the present moment in public communication. Hyperpartisans and conspiracy theorists, for instance, are abundantly aware of what their opponents think and say, but instinctively, reflexively reject those views: if there is a filter, it is located in their (and equally perhaps in our) heads, not their information feeds. Similarly, if global digital media platforms were predominantly to blame for the decline of societal cohesion and consensus, why are countries like the US considerably more deeply affected while other democracies remain considerably more resilient?
While these deep divisions are often misdiagnosed as evidence of ‘echo chambers’ and ‘filter bubbles’, then, they actually point to pernicious dysfunction at a discursive level: they are evidence of deeply entrenched polarisation and hyperpartisanship. Yet digital media studies have yet to develop a full repertoire of conceptual and methodological approaches for the analysis and assessment of such phenomena. Such approaches need to be able to distinguish between benign forms of ideological agonism and partisanship and destructive, entrenched polarisation; and they need to recognise diverse ideological, issue-based, interpretive, and affective qualities in polarised discourse. This evidence is critical to enabling an urgently needed, robust defence of our society and democracy against the challenges of polarisation.
This seminar will be chaired by Dr Katharina Esau.
About the speaker
Axel Bruns is an ARC Laureate Fellow (2021-2026) and Professor at the Digital Media Research Centre at QUT.
Online - https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/the-filter-in-our-heads-digital-media-and-polarisation-tickets-522375879317
In person - Building 24, Fishbowl