Monday, March 12, 2012

Networked Media: Democracy in Action or the Blind Leading the Blind?

It was Sustein's writings this week that really caught my attention. In particular, the idea of "the Daily Me" seemed to speak most to the touchpoints we all have with networked media on a daily basis. Sustein's "Four Big Problems" corresponds well to "the Daily Me," as I will elaborate on here briefly.

While reading through these texts, I thought of a few salient examples from my own interaction with "the Daily Me" recently.

- First of all, I think we have all seen the "KONY2012" video circulating around the internet, growing in popularity at explosive rates. I have not watched the video, but I have been impressed by its effect on people I know, and more importantly, of course, on my Facebook and Pinterest pages. I think that, in a sense, the example of the KONY2012 video illustrates what Sustein was saying with the notion that "a well-functioning system of free expression must [expose people] to materials that they would not have chosen in advance" (p. 8, "The Daily Me"). Think of it this way: Without networked media, what are the chances that KONY2012 would have been viewed by so many people?

As a side note, I wonder how affective pure exposure is in the sense of mobilizing democratic action. Again, I think KONY2012 is a good example; we will see how long its lifespan on social media lasts, and if any government intervention at all will occur because of its popularity.

- Secondly, I offer the recent example of the fervor over the birth control mandate. After a few days of seeing it on the news and--more frustratingly for me--my social networks, I found myself increasingly polarized on the issue, something that I had not previously sought out discussion on. I began to filter the messages I received from the media so that I would not need to hear the differing opinions unless, of course, I felt like being angry that day. I feel like this not only exemplifies what Sustein was saying about the increasingly common nature of people to filter out only the messages they want to hear and agree with, but also Sustein's notion of the "Four Big Problems."

Because I chose for a time to only attend to news items on the mandate that aligned with my particular opinions on the issue, I feel that I encountered those Four Big Problems. Certainly, when people filter their life so as to only encounter messages that agree with their beliefs, amplification is an issue: polarization ensues, and we encounter egocentric bias. Hidden profiles are also extremely salient here, as people tend not to want to disclose information they have that might go against the group, especially on such a heated topic. Cascades and groupthink are also at play in the formation of the Daily Me, because who--for example--would go against such a reputable source as Fox News?!

After reading and reflecting on Sustein's writings, I believe that the internet often exacerbates these problems rather than resolves them, as I encountered with the mandate example. Although the internet could provide a multitude of varying information and opinions on the topic, I tended to pay more attention to results that conformed to my own particular beliefs.

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