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Student Research Guide WQ24/ Twitter and the Polarization of Society

Student Research Guide for Library 201/ Luke Wheeler

What is this Guide for?


The Fragmented Web: Twitter and its Polarization of Society

 This is a student created research guide for English 102 & Library 201 Learning community


The purpose of this guide is to explore Twitter, its anatomy, and the power it has over our perceptions of the people around us.

This research thesis is about how to maximize user engagement, Twitter is programmed specifically to promote controversy and outrage, which results in an America characterized by radical socio-political discourse and mass polarization.


The research questions in this guide are:

  • How does Twitter affect political discourse outside of its digital environment?
  • How does Twitter take advantage of the evolved predispositions of its users?
  • How did Twitter develop over time?
  • What does Twitter look like today?
  • How do Twitter's algorithms work?
  • Has Twitter and social media at large fundamentally changed how humans interact with and perceive each other?



In the past few decades, societal divisions in the U.S. have intensified. Americans are at an all-time low for interpersonal trust and some even have apprehensions about civil war. While there are numerous reasons for this division, media conglomerates are a significant instigator, leveraging controversy to increase viewer engagement and financial support. At the same time, the emergence and rapid growth of social media platforms, notably Twitter, have reshaped the landscape of global interaction, providing unprecedented avenues for social discourse. This research guide explores the cognitive and societal ramifications of Twitter's algorithmic design, which prioritizes user retention through the promotion of controversial content and radical discourse. Drawing from evolutionary psychology and social neuroscience literature found in SVC databases and Google Scholar, alongside data and statistics from the Pew Research Center, and information from reputable blogs and articles detailing the history and anatomy of Twitter, this guide proves how the human brain's predisposition towards tribalism and cognitive biases interacts with Twitter's algorithm to fuel digital polarization. By amplifying extreme viewpoints and oversimplifying nuanced societal issues, Twitter exacerbates societal divisions and poses a significant threat to social cohesion. This guide underscores the urgent need for nuanced understanding and mitigation strategies to address the harmful effects of digital polarization on all American citizens, whether online or not.

Background Information

Twitter was launched in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone, and Noah Glass. All four were good friends and coworkers who worked together on a podcast app, Odeo, before beginning development on Twitter. Twitter’s early years were bumpy, as Noah Glass, who was 29 years old and the primary creator of the site, was forced out of the company by his coworkers in 2006. Jack Dorsey, who was also 29 years old at the time of the site’s creation and came up with the idea for the site, became CEO until he moved on in 2008. Evan Williams, 33, who was instrumental in shaping its direction and growth, became CEO after that, but was similarly let go in 2010. And in 2011, the last of Twitter’s initial creators, Biz Stone, 32, ended his relationship with the company.

Twitter’s initial purpose was to streamline and shorten the blogging process into small, bite-sized “tweets,” achieving this by imposing a character limit of 140 characters. Its layout and presentation of tweets functioned in a way that allowed users to scroll through thousands of tweets every hour. Its focus on brevity was an integral part of its business model, and while its inception was unmalicious, this fundamental core of Twitter would ultimately go on to cause an unprecedented amount of damage to the site.

Video, Graph, or Image

This is a short video that discusses Twitter's inception, systems, and history.

Source citation:

BBC News. “Twitter: How It All Began - BBC News.” YouTube, YouTube, 7 Nov. 2013,

All Content CC-BY.