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The Roundtable: How Algorithms Divide Us

Do Americans disagree as much as politicians, mass media, and social media often make it seem? And who gains from the reality and perception of deepening divides?

The May 14 shooting in Buffalo, New York took the lives of ten people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood. The shooter explicitly claimed to be motivated by replacement theory, an ideology that posits that White Americans must act to prevent being demographically “replaced” by other ethnic and cultural groups. The theory, which originated in white supremacist circles, has grown increasingly mainstream in recent years. A group of experts joined Roundtable to discuss the ideology and its implications. In this segment, the panelists discuss the role that media plays in today’s division in the United States. 

Matt Savoy argues that the political establishment benefits from pitting everyday citizens against one another.

“I don't believe that there's this left and right divide. I think that's intentionally stoked by the same people in these marble buildings in Washington DC. When it comes to voting for war, or for any type of special interest, Republicans and Democrats are in lockstep,” he says. “We've reached a point where this divide and conquer is having a massive psychological effect on millions of people.” 

Jim Denison discusses his belief that social media algorithms have exacerbated that division, and describes the need for communities to come together. He ends on an optimistic note, explaining his belief that community is more natural than hatred and division.  

“Now the business of media is to exacerbate these tensions by focusing very specifically on particular constituents that their advertisers want them to reach,” he says. 

“I’m not saying there's some large Machiavellian plot behind all that. It's how the analytics have moved us, and it's where the money is to be made. So I only listen to the people with whom I agree, and my opinions get even more hardened, and it's a top-down monetizing process.”

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Watch the full discussion below:

Roundtable Guests:

Cliff Schechter, Commentator

Matt Savoy, Co-founder, The Free Thought Project

Sharon Kyle, Publisher, LA Progressive

Jim Denison, Denison Ministries