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Life in an echo chamber

November 12, 2007

Last week, Poppy had a great blog entry talking about some things she saw on The Huffington Post, a liberal blog and commentary site that likes to also pretend it is a news site. In her entry, Poppy remarks about how the author of an entry talked about conservative gadfly David Horowitz. While I can’t say I’m too familiar with his work, I have seen a couple speeches of his on C-SPAN before. When I have seen him he seems to be presenting a thought-out and civil argument for some views that may not be socially popular.

Without knowing too much about Poppy and her political views, she seems pretty fair-minded. So I was not too surprised when she offered up a description for that particular Huffington Post piece that could easily describe too much of today’s political discussion:

“The post didn’t actually refute Horowitz, it just reported on Horowitz in a tone that made it clear that you were supposed to be horrified by Horowitz, because, well, that’s the position of the author and the readers. The video was particularly bad. It simply assumed that the person watching would find that Horowitz was ridiculous because he was articulating a different point of view. There was minimal attempt to actually refute Horowitz.”

I think this is one of the problems that needs to be explored a bit more in our culture. As we discussed in class, the internet allows people to pick and choose the news they want to hear and how they want to hear it. We have lost our “starting point” for news. All too often people frequent The Huffington Post or DailyKos or Instapundit or whatever political blog they favor because they know they are going to get the news they want with the spin they want. As a result, they often miss out on a lot of spin-free reporting and totally miss out on what the other side of the argument may be thinking. They then go on about their lives without hearing what are often rational arguments against their opinions because they don’t need to hear it to get the news. As long as there is easy access to it, people will just hear what they want to hear from voices who want to say what the readers want to hear.

While there is a myriad of causes, I’m sure the rise in accessibility to the internet and the echo chambers it has created can certainly be listed as one of the factors in today’s super-polarized political atmosphere. That is not to say, however, that bias is a completely bad thing. It is fine to have bias in one’s commentary and news story selection. In Europe the press is open about their biases. But they also get their facts right. And they do more than just report on things with disdain in the tone. If we can reach a similar balance in our political blogosphere, instead of doing as the Huffington Post did (in Poppy’s comment and when it labeled a liberal-led nationwide effort to get rid of the Electoral College as “Republican dirty tricks”) we can reach a blogosphere that enhances conversation, not muddy it.

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