Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Rabi' ath-thani 24, 1443 H
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The polarisation and fragmentation of public opinions

When groups of youth come together to discuss issues affecting society, the grown-ups would do well to listen. Many young people are well- informed and capable of analysing and evaluating everyday events using the values and understandings gained from extensive exposure to the digital world.

It is not to imply that they know better, but rather to underline that their point of view differs. The ways they interpret problems like gender, climate change, poverty, or contemporary slavery show their desire to participate in society — in some situations, they simply need to fine-tune their lines of thoughts and objectives. The way they approach worldly issues may escape the ears and eyes of those around them.

Language, like culture and technology, develops with time. Precisely because of the evolution in all areas, the youth feel free to express their opinions openly. They feel empowered by social media opportunities. They became bold. When they are unable to communicate critical opinions, for example, they may use humorous or sarcastic language to express themselves.

Metaphors are a powerful tool for conveying information. Arab linguists have been studying metaphors since the eighth century. The usage of proverbs, maxims, and idioms to address worldly issues can be traced back to the poet Medan al Shweeir’s works in Arabian Satire, which are closely related to the Arabian Peninsula. The difficulty with satire, whether it is hilarious or sarcastic, is that it might be misconstrued and shared as real news.

In the past, the media operated as information flow controllers, with one source cascading to many recipients in a top-down manner. This structure has shifted as a result of the Internet and the arrival of smartphones. Individuals can publish and express their views to a wide range of audiences. The flow of information is no longer selected by its value but rather by popularity.

The social platforms contributed to this polarisation by allowing people to choose the content they want to see, resulting in clusters based on shared ideas and emotions. These interconnected processes fused together end up in the dynamics of public opinions — albeit a fragmented one — based on interests and advantages.

Due to the commercial objectives of social networks, the social platforms are always changing their processes and tactics that stimulate participation and organisation. As a result, digital activism is a natural consequence, which, in turn, contributes to the market value of companies that have grown to be global giants of public opinion - with the understanding that investors are always looking for faster growth and higher returns. Now, governmental institutions and civil society organisations also use digital activism to promote their objectives, such as events, awareness campaigns, workshops, or publicity.

Diversity in media can provide more choices for people, although individuals only choose media within the bounds of their horizons. Within this thought, some will look into ‘worldly matters’ with an open mind while others belonging to the close-minded groups will construct their own opinions, and promote them on social media. It is difficult to say whether public opinion within the spectrum of social media is indeed accurate in measuring collective sentiments – even within small groups. It is not because a group of people uses a certain hashtag on Twitter that they can have what they want or the way they want it. It is critical to recognise that hashtag social movement can be noisy and disruptive – particularly if the goal of the mobilisation has limited scope.

Institutional and youth-led polarisation of social media activism deserves some compromises. Listening to one another is part of the entire development process, which includes investing in people and bridging the gap between generations. In the end, everybody is looking for great returns,

whether they are economic, intellectual, or social.

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