Friday, April 07, 2006

Chicago law professor seeks danger in "Daily Me"

As quoted by Mark Glaser, MediaSift (PBS) columnist, at:

Cass Sunstein , a law professor at the University of Chicago, has decried
The Daily Me as helping to foster an echo chamber online where people only
read news stories that align with their thinking, and never see opposing
opinions. .If the public is fragmented and if members of different groups
design their own preferred news packages, the consequence might well be
greater fragmentation as group members move one another toward more
extreme positions,. Sunstein wrote in a Time magazine essay, Boycott the
Daily Me , in 2001.

TIME MAGAZINE, JUNE 4, 2001, VOL.157 NO.22

Boycott the Daily Me!
Yes, the Net is empowering. But it also encourages extremism.and that's
bad for democracy


Technology is tipping the political balance away from the state and toward
activists who can now mobilize instantly.

Our Interactive World, an hour-long special hosted by CNN's Michael Holmes
and Tumi Makgabo, featuring luminaries from the world of information
For most of human history, people's interactions have been shaped by
geography. We lived and talked with those who were nearby. More than
anything else, the Internet is fundamentally changing that.

All over the world, new communities are forming, based not on shared
spaces but on shared interests. Religious fundamentalists in Brazil
exchange ideas with religious fundamentalists in Russia. Survivors of
cancer in Tokyo offer moral support and helpful information to survivors
of cancer in France. Environmentalists in America, concerned about global
warming and destruction of the rain forests, speak on a daily basis with
environmentalists in Germany and South Africa.

From the standpoint of democracy, this seems to be a wonderful
development. As a result of the Internet, people can learn far more than
they could before and learn it much faster. If they distrust the mass
media and want to bypass it and discuss issues with like-minded people,
they can do that. With the declining importance of geography, people need
not depend on the daily newspaper or the local library. And if they want
to send information to a wide range of people, they can do so via e-mail
or websites. People are even able to create what has been called the Daily
Me.a newspaper that includes those topics and points of view they wish to
encounter and that excludes material they find boring or irritating.

In many ways, these developments contain a great deal of promise for
self-government. But there is a dark side, too. For democracy to work,
people must be exposed to ideas they would not have chosen in advance.
Democracy depends on unanticipated encounters. It is also important for
diverse citizens to have common experiences, which provide a kind of
social glue and help them to see they are engaged in a common endeavor. A
world where people only read news they preselect creates a risk of social

Until now, this danger was diminished by general-interest newspapers,
magazines and broadcasters. When reading the local newspaper, you may come
across stories about technological innovations in Berlin or crime in Los
Angeles or new business practices in Tokyo.stories that you might read but
which you might not have placed in your Daily Me. When the evening news
comes on, a story about an earthquake in India might catch your attention;
maybe you will even help with relief efforts, even though you would never
have chosen to know about the tragedy in advance. You may believe that the
problem of global warming is overinflated, a threat manufactured by
radical environmentalists; but a persuasive article might engage your
attention and even change your mind.

These unchosen, unanticipated encounters are important, even crucial, for
democratic self-government. And while the increased power of individual
choice can expand our horizons, it can also narrow them if many people end
up in communications universes of their own specific design. For
democracy, there is a special problem. Social scientists have long known
that when like-minded people are deliberating together they tend to end up
thinking the same thing they thought before.but in more extreme form.
Those who believe tax rates are too high will, after talking together,
come to think that large, immediate tax reductions are a really good idea.
People who think the world economy is in trouble are likely, after
discussion, to fear economic catastrophe.

This phenomenon carries a stern warning about the effects of social
interactions on the Internet. If the public is fragmented and if members
of different groups design their own preferred news packages, the
consequence might well be greater fragmentation as group members move one
another toward more extreme positions. Extremists will become even more
extreme. In fact, hate groups are flourishing on the Internet simply
because their members are able to interact with others having similar
prejudices, thus fortifying attitudes that would otherwise tend to

Does this mean the Internet is bad for democracy? Not at all. Tyrants are
less likely to prosper when dissidents can exchange information with
democrats from all over the world. More than ever before, citizens can
avoid the limitations of space and form communities around ideas. This is
healthy for the exchange of information; it can even breed political
engagement. But good citizenship requires far more than countless editions
of the Daily Me. Democracy is undermined when people choose to live in
echo chambers of their own design.


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