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Social media platforms are exacerbating polarisation, and it could get much worse

2017 research conducted by Unitec into perceptions of community safety in West Auckland found that high social media use, particularly of Facebook and Neighbourly, increased Pākehā people’s fear of crime, despite being the group least affected and despite crime rates consistently decreasing.

Pākehā people’s use of social media was significantly higher than other ethnic groups (89% vs 69%) as was their anxiety and fear about other people in their community. Pākehā, as a group, wanted more police and tougher justice policy, compared with other ethnic groups who wanted more initiatives that support community engagement and connection.

A report co-authored by former Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman concludes that:

“Social media has helped new groups and communities of interest to form and grow, but it has also enabled more polarised and entrenched views to take root, and among the groups that form are antisocial ones that take advantage of the dark web to build new collectives based on violent, anti-social, morally objectionable or illegal behaviours.”

The report goes on to say:

“Cyberbullying, and misuse of social media increasingly can polarise and fragment societies and threaten our sense of wellbeing, especially if they spill over into real-world actions. In the area of interpersonal relationships, the transition of online relationships to ‘in real life’ situations can have security consequences. It could be a minor who is enlisted into risk-taking behaviour in real life, or someone who has been radicalised online and goes on to violently enact their beliefs. In these and other types of cases, the persuasive and self-reinforcing nature of online activity carries an increased potential for real world consequences as the lines between our real and online lives increasingly blur.”