Monday, November 2, 2009

Internet Users Can Screen Out Unwanted Facts

In 2008, the Internet overtook newspapers as a source for national and international news, and continued to gain on television.  According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 70% of adults surveyed December 3-7, 2008 said that television was one of their main sources, 40% said it was the Internet, and 35% said it was newspapers.  For individuals under 30, however, an identical percentage, 59%, said the Internet was a main source for national and international news (multiple responses were allowed).   This was a dramatic reversal from 2007, when twice as many young people, 68% versus 34%, reported relying on television than on the Internet.

But what sort of news are people getting?  Internet hyperlinks enable both readers and writers to be selective about what they read and reference.  This flexibility encourages like-minded readers to filter the people and content they interact with online, which fosters viewpoints that are extreme or unsupported by the facts.  As Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker reports in her review of Cass Sunstein's  “On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done”, multiple studies show that political blogs are much more likely to link to like-minded content, and studies show that interaction with like-minded individuals leads to more extreme viewpoints.

As a consequence, Internet users can find content and community to support almost point of view, regardless of whether it is supported by scientific consensus or corroborated reality.  Kolbert also contends that a portion of the political right has given itself the freedom to depart from reason.  For one of my favorite examples, see WorldNetDaily,

Do you seek out diverse perspectives when you surf the 'Net?  What can be done to encourage Internet users to do so?  Post a comment or vote in the poll to the upper right (Facebook readers click on View Original Post below to visit my blog

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