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Polarization Runs Deeper Than Social Media, Says National Review Correspondent

Elijah Labby

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Photo of National Review correspondent Kevin Williamson courtesy of the National Review

July 16, 2020 — Social media is not exacerbating the problems of American public discourse, said the National Review’s Kevin Williamson in a Lincoln Network webinar Thursday.

The event, titled “Social Media's Impact on Free Speech,” featured a discussion between Williamson and the Lincoln Network’s Marshall Kosloff about the role of popular media websites in shaping American political and cultural discussion.

Williamson said that the increasing polarization of America’s political party runs deeper than social media.

“[This] was going on for a long time before there was any such thing as social media,” he said. “This is something that would be happening irrespective of whether there were a Twitter or Facebook or not.”

He said that so-called cancel culture would have existed without social media, pointing to gay actors who could not find work in early Hollywood as an example.

Despite this, Williamson said, several companies and organizations where such conversations occur are not incentivized to seek productive input.

“I used to do Fox News a lot,” he said, “and they just really hated having me on because I would give these ‘well on the one hand, on the other hand’ answers — they’re like ‘no, strangle the guy, that’s what we want.’”

Williamson also noted that news companies and their media affiliates must take into account decreasing attention spans when creating programming.

He pointed to Firing Line with William F. Buckley, a 20th century political television program wherein Buckley, the founder of the National Review, interviewed a single guest for nearly an hour.

“If you wanted to take the actual Firing Line to a production company today and try to sell that to them, you wouldn’t get in the front door,” he said.

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