There is an argument that the Internet’s harmful effects outweigh its substantial benefits. Back in the early 90s it was argued that media fragmentation would lead to balkanisation. It has.
Let me unpack that a bit. First, media fragmentation. When I was in short trousers there was one TV channel in the UK. In the playground you could tell what day of the week it was by listening to the chatter. Children of families that had TV all talked about what they saw the previous night. Later we got a second station and now there were two different conversations. We now have hundreds of channels. There aren’t hundreds of conversations though. Instead there are a handful because TV viewing clusters around a relatively small number of popular channels. Some people get their news from CBS and others get it from Fox.
Balkanisation is the division of a group or place into separate pieces that owe more allegiance to themselves than to the whole. Serbs and Croatians, Republicans and Democrats, Jews and Palestinians, Hatfields and McCoys. It’s not uncommon on a small scale, and by small-scale I mean Palestine or Northern Ireland. In those two cases balkanisation is due to religious and/or racial differences leading to separate cultures. Now in the UK we have Remainers and Brexiteers both pointing at news sources that conclusively prove their mutually incompatible views.
With Republicans and Democrats in the US balkanisation has hit the big-time. There is some light at the end of a very long tunnel. Solving balkanisation in the US might throw some light on how to build a society that can cope with groups having radically different ideas of how things should work. And that won’t just help the Hatfields and the McCoys.