Excerpt from a review of a timely new book:
Sunstein begins with the relatively uncontroversial premise that a vigorous exchange of information is critical to the democratic process. As he acknowledges, the Web makes virtually unlimited amounts of information available; it is now possible to sit in a coffee shop in New York and read not just the newspapers from Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles but also those from Cairo, Beijing, and London, while simultaneously receiving e-mail alerts on the latest movie openings and corporate mergers. From this, it is often argued that the Internet is a boon to democracy—if information is good, then more information must be better. But, in Sunstein’s view, the Web has a feature that is even more salient: at the same time that it makes more news available, it also makes more news avoidable.
“It seems plain that the Internet is serving, for many, as a breeding group for extremism, precisely because like-minded people are deliberating with greater ease and frequency with one another,” Sunstein writes. He refers to this process as “cyberpolarization.”
Put the Web’s filtering tools together with cyberpolarization and what you get, by Sunstein’s account, are the perfect conditions for spreading misinformation. Who, on liberal blogs, is going to object to (or even recognize) a few misstatements about Sarah Palin? And who, on conservative blogs, is going to challenge mistaken assertions (or, if you prefer, lies) about President Obama?