Social Media, Polarization, and the Backfire Effect

I’ve been reading up on the psychological phenomenon called the backfire effect lately as I’ve tried to navigate the increasing polarization on social media. The more I learn, the more it’s influencing what I post on social media and what I choose to engage with.

In essence, we all have the tendency to dig in our heels further (and become more polarized) not only when we read something that confirms our biases but also when we read something that challenges our worldview. Our human brains are fun (and unhelpful) like that. So instead of debating topics, falling down (dis)information rabbit holes, and trying to determine who is right and who is wrong, I’ve been searching up information on cognitive biases and logical fallacies to override the parts of my brain that always want me to be right.

Professionally, I’m highly trained in evaluating the credibility of sources found online. I’ve read through many, many posts, watched countless videos, and engaged with most of what has been sent my way with an open mind. I’ve also read journal articles and watched health officer briefings so I could hear their words first-hand in the intended tone. I’ve supported some decisions that have been made and disagreed with others.

Based on all this, I have no hesitation about the vaccines (hence the t-shirt in the photo below). It’s okay if that’s not the same for you. I’m not going to debate you on it, because (thanks to the backfire effect) that will only serve to divide us further. And I don’t want that.

But if I could encourage you to do one thing, it would be to read up on cognitive biases, logical fallacies, the backfire effect, and the Dunning-Kruger effect before sharing your opinion about polarizing issues online. My hope is that if more people learn about how our brains like to trick us and how social media can mess with our ability to think logically, then we (at the very least) can begin to communicate with one another about hot-button issues with more kindness and empathy.