I have been thinking about this image a lot recently:
This graphic is taken from research published this summer. The image represents 563,312 tweets about three polarizing issues in the United States: gun control, same-sex marriage, and climate change.
The study presented two particularly compelling findings. First, tweets that are emotional and moral are retweeted significantly more than posts that are emotional without expressing moral indignation. Translated: if you want to get lots of retweets, let loose your outrage at wrongs committed by someone else.
The second intriguing finding of the study — illustrated above — is that your emotionally-amped indignation only goes viral as a ‘social contagion’ within the boundaries of your ideological group. Emotional-moral language galvanizes people to spread a message quickly, but only amongst themselves. Emotionally charged tweets about moral issues thus render a map that illustrates the polarization of society as a whole.
When I look at the image above, I reflect on my choice of words and language over the last few years. I wonder how I am implicated in this graphic. Ideally speaking, I guess I assume we all have a responsibility to forge (or reforge?) some middle ground: not because we need to compromise our convictions, but because history has nothing encouraging to say about societies that splinter at the ideological seam. But how do I, as an individual, engage with the most emotion-inducing moral debates without merely adding to the echo chamber of my choir? How do I talk about morally-charged issues without getting angry? Where am I engaged in a discourse at the convergence of these blue and red clusters? How do I intentionally not get angry about the very things that I am most angry about in the first place?
I suspect this image also captures at least some of the reason so many people I speak with do not describe the present state of Twitter as a particularly edifying experience. It seems like Twitter is, at this point, just making everyone upset. And divided.