Over the past decade, there has been an increase in “tribalism” and the need for people to be on a “side” or view about every topic. In the past, tribalism occurred in small groups within communities and cities, whether it was related to sports teams, politics, lifestyles and other interest groups. The internet age has increased people’s ability to express their views and provide information. The internet has also allowed greater interconnectedness of people through various platforms, which has led to the ability for interest groups to come together, whether it is to discuss topics, products,
Tribalism is not new on the internet; if you have ever been part of the early bulletin board system (bbs) you would have seen tribalism occur over sports, cars, products, and any other interest group. These bulletin boards have evolved on the internet into Facebook groups, and WhatsApp groups, which still act in the same way as they have members and moderators. However, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and other platforms are open platforms that allow anyone to publish information (true or false) beyond their close social groups and organisations.
There is a growth in a trend of people’s inability (or laziness) to review the information and differentiate between opinion and information, which has led people to believe that an opinion is true. Often these opinions are compelling, piecing together false facts to appear to be compelling information. They, in turn, feel compelled to continue to spread the information (as truth) to their friends and followers as there is an increasing feeling that you need to inform people of the “truth”. These “truths” are then seen as fact, and when someone disagrees with the “truth” that they published, they reply and then the person who disputed the fact responds, and others join the conversation, and it turns into a tribal situation of “us and them”. A healthy discussion about topics is imperative to moving forward with knowledge and exploring ideas. However, there is an increasing disconnection between people being able to recognise the difference between fact and opinion. Many people end up in a tribe due to their belief that someone’s opinion littered with false facts is true, which becomes a belief and narrative of the tribe.
Internet algorithms also play a part in pushing people to particular content (honeypot) due to a large amount of engagement that biased or false content often receives as people seek to either reinforce the narrative through anecdotal commentary or try to disprove the content through argumentative commentary. As this content receives an increase in engagement, it rises to the top of search listings and platform-curated feeds due to algorithms seeking to increase engagement (such as comments or sharing) and content go “viral” quickly due to an algorithm. This increases tribalism as people seek to share and like the same type of content.
The increasing trend of tribalism has already impacted the ability of governments and organisations to respond to climate change and move toward achieving reductions in carbon emissions, improving biodiversity, reducing poverty and so on has been a drag on the efforts by a few loud voices that seemingly are growing in popularity. We need to filter out the noise (often occurring on social media) and look to take action against climate change. There is no time to defend whether obvious problems and issues are true and occurring and take action. The solutions to problems can be simple or complex, and there is a need to discuss complex problems to ensure the proposed solution is the best response to the problem and its context.
Text was written by Damian Holmes