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The Invisible Hand of Social Media in Politics

By Cristian Worthington Co-Founder of Cristian is a leading expert in social media and video technology.

Social media’s invisible hand has played a pivotal role in polarizing politics.

But there are things we can do to bring sanity back to our political discourse, once we understand the problem.

Behind the Social Media Curtain

Whether you use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, or any other social media App, the world you see in these Apps is carefully controlled by invisible rules (algorithms).

These algorithms are created and controlled by social media companies. They decide which posts and comments you see.

The formula is simple:

  1. The more time you spend reacting and contributing inside the App, the more money the App makes. These Apps are in the business of selling your attention to advertisers.

  2. The goal for social media companies is to provoke an emotional response. The more emotion they can get you to feel, the more likely you are to spend time and interact with others inside their App.

  3. Only a small amount of content your followers post is displayed to you. The algorithms are programmed to display the content that is most likely to provoke emotion.

How Algorithms Divide Us

Social media algorithms have a divisive effect on politics because they amplify emotional subjects and silence moderate voices.

When a person posts something calm and sensible, it generally gets very few likes and shares. People usually don’t get worked up about something that’s widely accepted.

When somebody posts something outrageous, it provokes an emotional response and a lot of interaction. This in turn results in the social media App displaying the post to more people, fueling a vicious cycle.

The algorithm chooses who will see the post based on who is most likely to agree with the viewpoint expressed in the post.

For example, you probably have more than a hundred friends on Facebook but most of the time you’ll see posts from a small subset of these friends, the ones who agree with your perspective.

People with extreme opinions will often use hashtags that allow like minded users to find their posts. Hashtags like “qanon” are like a secret handshake that allows cells of radically minded people to easily connect.

Social media algorithms promote radical views with hashtags because they allow the App to show a post to like-minded people and create a positive feedback loop.

Often these groups are small in numbers but when their voices are brought together they are able to make a lot more noise. This creates the impression in the wider community that radical views are more common than they are in actuality.

This has led to social media giving rise to unprecedented political polarization.

The Business of Outrage

Social media companies are not the only ones monetizing emotion in this brave new world.

Social media has turned outrage into a valuable industry for people peddling radical causes.

In the recent truckers’ protest, over the course of just a few days, millions of dollars were raised from angry donors who were given no assurance of how the funds would be used.

While most charities were struggling with fundraising, the truckers’ protest was swimming in “rage donations”.

Rage was such a strong motivator that even foreign donors who were not directly affected by the grievances of Canadian truckers readily opened their wallets.

Rage is a powerful tool for raising political donations on the internet. Rage makes people impulsive and the internet makes it all too easy to act on that impulse.

For opportunistic politicians who are hard-pressed to raise money, rage donations are an irresistible attraction.

Social media provokes emotion, unites widely distributed niche groups, and allows controversial views to flourish. It’s a perfect storm that’s created a vibrant economy for radical politics.

Regulation of Social Media

Politicians on the left and right have called for government regulation of social media. Ironically, each claims the views of the other are being unfairly promoted by these Apps.

But there is a lot of evidence to suggest that government intervention is not the answer.

A quick survey of all the countries with strict policies on social media is a who’s who of dictatorships and Stalinist states.

One extreme example of this is China, where social media is aggressively censored by the government.

Despite intense censorship efforts, users of WeChat (the dominant social media app in China) continually outsmart the Chinese censors. This has caused an endless and often amusing game of Whac-A-Mole between the censors and the dissidents.

The absurdity of the situation peaked in 2018 when China’s censors banned all mention of Winnie the Pooh because WeChat users were using images of Pooh to mock President Xi Jinping.

If the Chinese Communist Party armed with legions of censors can’t completely control social media, it’s highly doubtful a free society would have any success.

Another proposal is that the government should force social media Apps to be more transparent.

Recently Elon Musk promised he would voluntarily bring "transparency" to Twitter by publishing the algorithms used on its platform.

But publishing the blueprint for the invisible hand of social media won't change the fact that its influence will continue to be felt. When Isaac Newton explained gravity, we didn’t suddenly start walking on air.

As long as social media exists there will always be algorithms making decisions about the content we see. And sometimes those decisions will have unintended consequences.

For example, in efforts to censor content using artificial intelligence, women’s groups promoting breastfeeding on social media have been blocked as pornography.

Technology capable of figuring out the real meaning of a social media post has not yet been developed.

Even if it were possible to regulate social media through policy or technology, there is the bigger question of whether we want a government agency to decide which opinions are desirable in our society. Regulating speech is a slippery slope no freedom-loving Canadian should want.

If Social Media were robbed of emotion it would become dull and boring. The market would vote with its feet and leave the Apps in droves.

And regulation by the crowd simply ends up with a fickle and error-prone system like Cancel Culture.

No effort to regulate social media will be fair or effective. The promise of regulation solving this problem is a pipedream.

The Way Forward

As individuals, we each need to find ways to campaign for moderate positions.

We have the power to make a difference if we’re aware of the problems created by social media and we take action.

At the Centre Ice Conservatives, we've developed a social media project to help reverse the tide of extremism.

It’s your chance to make a difference.

All you need to do is visit this link on the Centre Ice Conservatives website (

Simply follow the easy steps outlined and record a video expressing your moderate views.

The goal of this project:

  1. Collect as many testimonials as possible from like-minded moderates. We want to feature your voice next to thought leaders in the Conservative Party.

  2. This is a supervised platform, so you won’t be drowned out by radical voices. We preview every video that’s submitted before it’s posted to our site.

  3. Each contributor is asked to identify himself/herself, so we don’t have people trolling our community while hiding behind fake avatars.

  4. We’ll take full advantage of hashtags so your video is seen by people who care about politics in Canada. Your voice will be heard.

  5. Your video will be promoted to our network, using our website, email list, and social media accounts. Your voice will be amplified.

The process is quick and easy.

Just go to the page, click on the Record button and start recording your video using your desktop computer.

If you want to pre-record your comment, you can use your mobile phone to record your video, then visit the record page ( with your phone and upload the video on the Centre Ice Conservative site.

You don’t need to be a techie to make this work. Feel free to reach out to us if you need help.

Please join the conversation by submitting your video

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