How does polarisation arise?
Polarisation arises when two subgroups of the population pit themselves against the other’s identity. An ‘us’ versus ‘them’ is created, with a ‘silent middle ground’ in between. The latter consists of people who either have a nuanced opinion or no opinion at all on the debate. Both extremes try to draw the middle ground to their side. If they succeed, there is less and less room for nuance and the opposition only increases.
Polarisation can arise anywhere: in the media, within the government, or simply in your neighbourhood. Places with lots of diversity and places where various groups struggle to communicate are especially vulnerable to polarisation.
(Social) media and polarisation
People with a strong opinion are often given speaking time in (news) media, more so than people from the ‘silent middle ground’. In that sense, the media can exacerbate polarisation. The same goes for social media: memes and other types of propaganda can spread virally and feed into polarisation.
Yet (social) media are usually a catalyst rather than the cause of polarisation. They can emphasise certain existing oppositions in society, but those oppositions tend to be a real and preexisting condition.