Sunday, March 31, 2013

Polarize me

Perhaps the reason is arbitrary, but on any given political map Democrats and liberals are identified with the color blue and Republicans and conservatives with red. The graphic above describes the party or ideological associations of blogs that link to left-leaning liberal or right-leaning conservative websites. The graphic is from a 2005 study from the International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining that measured the ideological polarization in the political blogosphere during the 2004 election. The lines between the nodes indicate where each blog linked to. What is interesting about the map is that there is not a whole heck of a lot of shared linkages between liberal blogs and conservative blogs.

Sunstein’s (2006) article attributed this phenomenon to group polarization, in which “members of a deliberating group typically end up in a more extreme position in line with their tendencies before deliberation began” (p.92).  The primary reason for this, according to the author, is because of informational influences. Sunstein described that when a limited number of opinions and arguments are shared the views then become more entrenched. Furthermore, as the graphic shows, views become more sharply polarized when they are validated by others who share those points of view. This creates a kind of “group think” where arguments within the group seem persuasive, and arguments outside the group just seem to make one’s blood boil. 

Networked communication can mean that listeners, readers, and viewers don’t need to receive their information from anywhere or anyone they don’t want to. We can select the news or issues that align with our points of view, and thus validate the views we already have. On one hand I suppose it feels good to know that others are out there who feel and think the same. On the other hand, as the graphic above demonstrates, it can mean that not much contrary opinion gets through the self-selecting filters. 

Sunstein, C. (2006). Infotopia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the reasons why I always seek out information that comes from traditional media sources. At least the reporter from the Washington Post will make an effort to provide both sides of an argument.