Radical socio-ecological transformations of our societies require an open and inclusive public debate. Such a debate will involve conflicts as part of the democratic process, but under certain conditions, controversies run the risk of falling victim to an untamed process of polarization. Polarization means the splitting of society into groups who disagree on the most basic questions and no longer regard each other as legitimate participants in a common debate. Polarization is neither a universal nor natural phenomenon, which raises questions about the factors that drive it. In this project, we focus on digital media networks and news coverage as key drivers of polarization by, among other things, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of polarizing societies.
The existential and normative question of how society should transform to tackle global ecological challenges is an utterly relevant case to study how polarization unfolds in communication. We will study polarization in the content of news media, in digital media networks and in unmediated political communication – looking at how these different arenas influence each other.
In phase one, we will develop a polarization barometer (Spring and Summer 2023), a combination of qualitative and automated tools to measure polarization through content and network analysis. With this in place, we will identify factors of depolarization (Fall 2023). In the third phase, we aim to develop a toolbox for depolarization, engaging both with the science of polarization and practitioners from the spheres of journalism, digital platforms and civil society (Winter and Spring 2024).