March 18, 2005 | Graham

Is the Internet balkanising political debate?

Good question, and one I’ve always answered in the affirmative after reading work by Cass Sunstein on group polarisation. That’s why On Line Opinion has a determinedly multi-partisan point of view – the last thing we need is more intellectual ghettos, and someone needs to look after the architecture to stop them developing.
But while I’ve made up my mind, there is still an academic debate raging. Some people say Sunstein’s right, and others side with writers like Jack Balkin (is this a case of being “anti-eponymous”?) who suggest that in the blogosphere at least it shouldn’t happen because bloggers are always referring to each other.
The latest evidence suggests that Balkin is wrong. A study by blog pulse tracks links between liberal and conservative (using these terms in the US sense) blogs during the last US elections and finds precious little overlap. Apparently ghettos and gulags are forming, at least when you allow people to spontaneously form into groups.
It all looks very Hobbesian and suggests that in some ways the Internet is providing a good demonstration of social contract theory at work. One of the underlying understandings of the social contract is that its origin is a necessary myth to explain its existence – there has never been any original state of nature out of which people voluntarily contract. But what if the ‘net is actually showing us, in an action research sort of way, that when you do get a state of nature people do have to contract into some order so as to survive (in a metaphorical sense in this context, you can’t really die in cyber space)? And what if the lack of that social contract actually spills into the f2f world and corrupts it?
That’s presumably why Eric Abetz is looking at whether online publications and commentators are covered by the election laws. It would appear to me to be a “no-brainer” that Internet sites are subject to the same electoral laws as govern all other publishers, so good on Eric for coming to the same conclusion.
I was the first to blow the whistle on the site, which ultimately turned out to be run by my good friend Tim Grau. My point was that I didn’t care who ran the site, or what was on it, but they should put their names to it. This also appears to be Abetz’s point, but predictably the move has angered some on the Internet. You might be able to work out who some of them are by looking at the abuse I copped over my original post.

Posted by Graham at 6:50 am | Comments Off on Is the Internet balkanising political debate? |
Filed under: Media

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