“We saw a lot of people lose races because of Facebook smear campaigns,” said Brown.
But was the Legislature’s turn to the right this cycle caused by Facebook? Or was it merely exacerbated by it? In the early 1990s, many scholars noted a similarly sharp demographic shift among conservatives alongside the rise of partisan cable news outlets like Fox and messaging from media-savvy politicians such as Newt Gingrich.
Stephanie Martin, an associate professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in conservative politics, cautions against drawing a direct line between increasing polarization and the growing use of social media, saying the platforms accelerate biases that voters already had.
“Social media is the highway,” she said. “But unless the cars get on the highway, you don’t have a traffic jam. Social media didn’t cause the polarization. The polarization caused the social discourse.”
The chief difference in the shifts seen among conservatives since 2016,…