It's Social Media, Stupid

I didn't realize how far apart our country was ideologically until the night Donald Trump won the election. Personally, I thought that the divide was between "Republicans" and "Democrats" when actually it was on much deeper lines that we don't even fully understand yet.

Since the election I've been engaging in the national conversation on Facebook and watching it happen on the news and on Twitter. It seems to me that the more we discuss and debate, the further apart we get. Each side wants to convince the other that they are right and somehow both sides just walk away more frustrated and more convinced that the other side is wrong. Hillary is corrupt! Trump is racist!

What we're witnessing are battle lines being drawn and everyone trying to find their tribe so they know who they can trust for the upcoming struggles. We're engaging other people not to find common ground but to build our trust networks.

How did we get here and how can we get out of this?

Over the past few years, starting with the Arab Spring, leading to ISIS, Brexit and now the election of Donald Trump we've seen one black swan event after another unfold. Each event was unique and occurred because of the specific conditions in each country but the one thing that was consistent was that social media acted as an accelerant in each case. It will take a while to fully understand the impact of social media on the American election but so far it seems that many voters were influenced by fake news that tapped into pre-conceived notions about the candidates.

We've been blessed with this incredible technology that has wired all of humanity together, and yet it is creating divisions so deep that, in a matter of days, we're throwing away bonds that took decades to build.

What we're dealing with is technology that we haven't figured out how to harness for good yet. Instead, we've watched it become weaponized and now see it causing wrenching change at an uncontrollable pace. Change is inevitable but I shudder to think what will happen if the rate of change increases even further and our divisions grow even deeper than they are now.

Humanity has often moved in dramatic directions when certain ideas circulate in a population and a charismatic leader seizes on them to rally people towards action. The Bolshevik Revolution started when Lenin mobilized the Russians around Communism, and we went into space when Kennedy harnessed our fear of the Russians to send us to the moon. Previously the battle of ideas took place in cafes and universities, now it's taking place on social media, and instead of having rational debates, we're having conversations with people who we already agree with and reading things that reinforce our world view and sharing them without fact checking them.

It's ironic that I'm writing this on the internet and sharing it using the very platform that I'm accusing of fueling the fire. It's also ironic that the platform was invented in the United States, and now that it's gone all the way around the globe, we're experiencing its power at home.

So America, now it's up to us to fix it and I think we can do it by doing what we know best: innovating and expressing ourselves. Let's build tools to help us connect in meaningful ways and let's have a vigorous debate about how to move forward as a country and as a world. When all is said and done there is more that holds us together than divides us. Let's use this moment in history to teach the world how to harness this incredible technology as a force for good that can continually remind us of our common humanity and move us forward together.