Divide et Impera is an old latin saying. It was -over a thousand year ago- a very successful war tactic in which the enemies were divided, pushed against each other, weakened as a result, and ultimately more easily conquered.
Zooming in to the last decade or so, internet first and social media later tweaked ever so slightly the concept of human relationships, and in the process they ignited a revolution of our our communication system in such a way that we are now giving a new modern meaning to that old adage.
Gone are the days when an editor was in charge and responsible for the views expressed on a newspaper, magazine, tv channel or any of those last-century medias.
Today’s communication is immediate in a very etymological sense: it is non mediated, there is no mediator, no moderator, all there is, is a 7 billion writers expressing their point of view, and 7 billion people reading, sharing and reacting in various ways.
Inevitably since social media had and have an interest in keeping their audience engaged, it’s just natural that they developed a system where messages capable of causing a reaction are algorithmically rewarded and promoted, so that they are seen by even more people.
This makes also perfect sense for the users, which by being more engaged end up spending more time on the platform and, in short, choosing it against competition.
Let’s be clear: no one ever got a million likes for writing “I like walking on a Sunday with my friends”… I am sure I can be proved wrong, but you get my point! If you were to write “I hate X people”, or “You Y people are all idiots”, you will definitely cause quite a stir on the other hand, and if we learnt something in recent years, we know that while causing a much wider, more polarising reaction, it will keep the audience more engaged, and therefore gain wider distribution. None of this is new, but it’s worth pointing it out before proceeding.
Whether this divisiveness may be one concurrent cause for the current new wave of nationalism, is already subject of debate, but I believe there’s a lot more waiting to happen than plain old nationalism.
A polarising communication system like this has implications that are still unfolding and will continue to unfold for years to come, and it is as imperative as it is urgent to understand how far this could go and how it can affect our society.
In modern western societies each one of us is a nearly unique combination of political and religious credo, values and ideals, sexual orientation, geographical and ethnical background, and gender, just to name a few. Sadly humans found countless occasions throughout history to hate and discriminate each other against every single one of those basis.
Ultimately hate and discrimination, do divide us into smaller groups of reciprocal enemies, do push us against each other, weakens us as a result, and ultimately makes us more easily conquered…
I don’t personally believe someone did purposely invent social media with a secret agenda to hijack human society; however any entity can only weaken so much, before an other entity gets naturally elected to win it over and replace it.
The current communication is obviously dividing us, the question is: where will we draw the line? What degree of divisiveness will we tolerate, before deciding that is time to stop? But most importantly: why waiting until then?