Hyperpartisanship & Democracy


While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is to not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.


What effect is hyperpartisanship in the media having on our democracy?


by: Bridget Haina

In the past six months, I have been called a liberal scumbag, mindless leftist, TWAT, pedophile lover, and my all-time favorite, fascist. Standing up for Black lives and the fight for racial equality online has automatically made users who disagree with my views paint me as a donkey-riding believer carrying my blue flag of righteousness. 

These people might be surprised to find out that I do not identify as a Democrat. I am not loyal to any political party. My beliefs and what I am willing to fight for stems from my core values and from my understanding of how I can use my gifts to better humanity. I am a progressive-minded activist who believes small acts of bravery and kindness can make a difference. I believe in equality, justice and freedom of expression for all, across the political spectrum. So why does this make me a “liberal?” Why put me in that box? Why see me as a decontextualized representative of a political party, instead of an individual human being, with complexity, history, a family, and a nuanced story of my own?

The word polarization has been flying around a lot lately. Politics are polarized; the media is polarized. Polarization seems to be seeping into every aspect of our lives, especially in those moments in which we turn our backs to our neighbors, colleagues and family members who are of a different political persuasion. We are so bent on our political side being the right and moral one, that we are willing to sever these essential communal ties. Polarization, or the division into two sharply contrasting groups, sets of options or beliefs is perhaps best illustrated by the moment in which I was called a fascist. By the moments that we speak up for our beliefs and those who oppose us relegate us to an idea. We are no longer a person; rather a dehumanized, virtual representation of a set of beliefs that they had come to equate with fascism. I was no longer the person they went to school with, drank beer with, played soccer with, or raised children with. I was the embodiment of all that they hate. How is it possible that we have gotten to a place where one person’s belief in freedom for all equates to another’s fear of fascism? How has our public debate become this confused? How has critical analysis come to be seen as unpatriotic?

But I am not a one-dimensional person. There is more than one side to my opinions,  to my actions, to who I am. I am not just ‘on the left’ – I am a whole person, with whole ideas that I build and challenge every day. And I know there are people ‘on the right’ who do the same thing, and who feel equally frustrated with the oversimplification of who they are into a neat politically-aligned ideological box.

So how did we get here? How did we arrive at calling each other names like toddlers online? How have we become so intractably divided that we see no common ground left to stand on? Are we really as polarized as life seems on Facebook or Twitter?

Exploring these questions can help us to understand how our engagement with one another through online spaces is impacting our offline lives and our democracy at large. It is well known that these platforms create echo chambers through the employment of relevancy-based algorithms. The more I like, the more I see, the more I like… a vicious cycle that is hard for any user to break free from, regardless of political affiliation. These echo chambers amplify legitimate grievances and create a misidentification of what is really happening, placing citizens at odds with one another over something as simple as wearing a mask. The lines between political beliefs and morality have become blurred, making it more and more difficult to see those who hold alternative views as good, decent people.

These digital platforms, in tandem with traditional media outlets, create idolized figureheads who personify the politics that they represent. Figureheads that discourage people to engage empathetically and consciously as if an actual human being was the one they were delivering their Tweet to. And in the new Attention Economy the more extreme the content and the language, the more amplified it becomes, weaponizing a fear of “the other” in a way print-based media never could.

To truly understand the social issues impacting America today, to truly understand racism, sexism, wage-gaps, climate change, and all the rest involves the development of a web of knowledge and the ability to critically analyze the information available for each given issue. It also requires that that information be trustworthy, credible and verified. But think about the primary means by which we receive information: consider how a broadcast news segment, a Facebook post, a Tweet or a meme is created. The end goal for each of those pieces of media is a segment of information designed to capture attention. These pieces of information might lead to a deeper investigation, but at first glance all four of those examples, if taken as is without any further diving, would provide only a de-contextualized, often oversimplified portion of the actual story. And we are happy to eat up these partial segments of information, perfectly packaged for our fast-scrolling digital lives. 

The brain craves this simplicity making it easy to place all of the blame for hyperpartisanship on the media and our government. But just as we should be reflecting on these mechanisms of polarization, we should at the same time be looking in a mirror.

We live in a media landscape of our own making. While we can’t control the content that is available to us, or other people’s reactions to it, we can choose what we decide to give our attention to. We can build our own networks and develop our own voices. We can challenge ourselves to find a way to create commonality, to strive for an empathetic understanding of each other and our differences, online and offline. 

It can be overwhelming and exhausting to confront all the problems we face in our online ecosystem. It feels that way because it is hard for us to believe that great change can come from the smallest places. But it can. I have felt it in the moments I connected with a student, friend or family member. In those moments when we stop feeling powerless and start feeling the power to create change that is in each and every one of us.

As more and more of our lives become digitized, it is imperative to the success of our democracy that we find a way to build compassion into our interactions with each other online; that we strive to communicate with decency and integrity; that we seek truth and avoid misleading oversimplifications. That we educate ourselves and generations to come on what it means to be a media literate digital citizen, engaging online with one another.

United We Stand. Divided We Fall. 

Let’s Unite.

questions to consider

What can we as citizens do in our daily lives to address hyperpartisanship and polarization?

How can our schools and other civic institutions help us develop a way of thinking about the world that positions critical analysis as patriotism?

How can you retain hope, for yourself and others, when there are no easy answers or solutions?

actions to take

Challenge yourself to seek out sources of information that present contrasting viewpoints to your own. Maintain an open mind.

Have a conversation with someone whose views don’t align with your own politically. Ask them questions. Listen to their answers. Avoid the need to correct, argue, or assert your own beliefs.

Pause before entering into a confrontation with someone online. Think about where that form of interaction is likely to lead. Is there a better, less publicly adversarial, way to discuss the issues? 

Avoid oversimplifications of issues, others, and the world at large.


How media reflects polarized politics in this page by Pew Research dedicated to articles analyzing political polarization in the US

Divided Politics: Divided Nation. The United States is caught in a partisan hyper conflict that divides politicians, communities—and even families. Politicians from the president to state and local office-holders play to strongly-held beliefs and sometimes even pour fuel on the resulting inferno. This polarization has become so intense that many people no longer trust anyone from a differing perspective.


We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy article by Vox

The Disunited States: How partisan politics is polarising the US article by AlJazeera

U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided

America’s political system isn’t broken. The truth is scarier: It’s working exactly as designed. In this book, journalist Ezra Klein reveals how that system is polarizing us — and how we are polarizing it — with disastrous results.


Listen to the Podcast Unpacking Political Polarization

Identify Values

self reflection exercise:

What are the values that are essential to your life both on and offline?

One of the main components to becoming a media literate digital citizen is understanding and reflecting on our own use of the media and how it impacts our life.

Being a digital citizen is not something to accomplish by completing a series of training videos, but is rather a disposition we strive to be by changing our behaviors and interactions online.

Whether you choose to write your response here or…

Converse with another human

go for a walk

talk to your dog

put it on paper

consider it quietly

draw it out

write a song

put motion to your thoughts

drink some whiskey with a friend.

Take one step towards becoming more aware of the digital forces impacting your life.

Media’s Impact on Democracy


While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is to not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.


How is ‘the media’ shaping our democracy in the United States?


by: Katherine Baxter

Upon hearing this question I imagine that most people would have an opinion, or at least a reaction. ‘The media’ is seemingly omnipresent, and perhaps best symbolized by the constant temptation of an entire world of information accessible to us at any moment, being carried around in our pockets. And ‘democracy’ is a word that evokes both a way of life, and an expectation of rights, processes, and forms of expression that can be easy to take for granted. These two concepts – democracy and media – exist both in tandem and in conflict with one another, and we invite you to join us in reflecting on the important relationship between the two.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s define ‘the media’ – the plural of ‘medium’ – as a means of mass communication, encompassing broadcasting, the Internet, and publishing. And let’s define ‘democracy’ as a system of government in which citizens vote directly, or elect representatives to form a governing body, to create what is sometimes called ‘rule of the majority.’ What might be the relationship between mechanisms of mass communication and a system of governance that functions based on the rules of the majority?

There are some straightforward answers to this question. Given that democracy relies upon an informed citizenry, the media, as the nexus of mediums by which said citizens receive information about the world around them, might play a significant role in shaping the views and positions of those citizens. This then leads to more questions: Where does this ‘media’ come from? Who produces it? Who owns it? Who vets it? And the bigger, overarching question: who gets to determine what is ‘true’? Especially within a capitalist framework, in which all media outlets – whether news, social media, publishing, research institutions, or otherwise – must turn a significant profit to stay afloat, it is easy to see how the relationship between media and democracy might be corroded by financial interests. As a consequence, the motives governing those individuals and institutions we task with producing and disseminating information about the world around us requires constant scrutiny, examination, and oversight to ensure their integrity.

However, most people don’t have the time, nor the inclination, to ask these questions every time they engage with media. Most people, across the political spectrum, take a lot for granted when it comes to trusting and believing information that’s presented to them, or that they actively seek out and curate for themselves. And then there is the additional issue of information silos, in which we cherry-pick news sources, research, and media that confirm our pre-existing beliefs and notions about the world, with algorithms designed to reinforce the walls of these silos. When you google “information silo” it is defined as “an insular system in which one information system or subsystem is incapable of reciprocal operation with others that are, or should be, related.” That seems to sum it up fairly well. The current media landscape can make contrasting worldviews seem incapable of reciprocal operation with others that are or should be, related.

It is telling that in the United States, it’s fair to say that knowing someone’s position on any one issue can often predict their position on other, seemingly unrelated issues. Why is it that believing in gun regulation should automatically correlate with believing in climate change? Or that being anti-choice should automatically correlate with being anti-big government? Issues have become dogmatic. People are no longer doing their own reasoning; fiercely oppositional and siloing media outlets are doing it for them.

So does all of this point to a society in which the concept of truth and the durability of facts are as fickle as the whims governing what people click on? The risk of having such a convoluted and confusing media landscape across the political spectrum is that it makes the concept of truth and the reliability of facts – essential underpinnings of any functioning society – easy to manipulate or to disregard altogether. Everyone thinks their set of facts and truths are correct, and they can each point to their own media sources to prove it. This makes arriving at any common ground extremely difficult. It leads to a mutual framing of oppositional worldviews as not based in facts, thereby doing serious damage to any collective pursuit of solutions, as this requires agreed-upon problems based in an agreed-upon reality. But perhaps even more harmful is the effect this can have of encouraging the dismissal and dehumanization of people who hold oppositional worldviews, especially if we consider John Dewey’s timely advice on democracy: “A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.”

If we instead see each other’s differing worldviews as the product of distinct information silos – the sum total of family, educational, media, and other informational exposures – this might open up a willingness to reflect on how we are all at the mercy of these incidental exposures, and therefore open up a space to talk about what is shared, what is common. A kid from Iowa who was raised going to church every Sunday morning, working on a farm everyday, and watching FOX news will likely have a very different view of the world than a kid growing up in NYC, with parents who both work for Amnesty International and read the New Yorker. These seeming cliché experiences are real, and determinative. 

In sum, our experiences of the world combined with our curated media landscapes become woven into the fabric of who we are, how we see ourselves as individuals, and ultimately how we relate to each other as citizens of the same country, trying to have our voices heard as participants of the same democracy. We all need to reflect on how we can build bridges for each other, across seemingly insurmountable ideological divides, with compassion, understanding, and respect for how we have come to be so different.

Our democracy depends on it.

questions to consider

What does your media landscape look like? Is it siloed?

How often do you challenge the information put before you? Why?

How quick are you to share information?

What information do you share and why?

actions to take

When consuming media, even from sources you trust, view them through a critical lense and challenge yourself to build a diverse media representation for yourself.

When perpetuating information online, be mindful of your emotive instincts to quickly pass along the information you “like” and reflect upon why it is important for you to share that information. What value does it add to your life or others? Does it reflect your voice accurately? Did you fact check?


How media reflects polarized politics in this page by Pew Research dedicated to articles analyzing political polarization in the US


America Is Now the Divided Republic the Framers Feared article from The Atlantic


Social Media and Politics is a popular science podcast bringing you first-hand insights into how social media is changing the political game.