Home > Misc > 2010-07-27 We Are The Network: Does “Instant Access to Everything” Cause Polarization of Opinions?

2010-07-27 We Are The Network: Does “Instant Access to Everything” Cause Polarization of Opinions?

July 25th, 2010

Does “Instant Access to Everything” Cause Polarization of Opinions?

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This Tuesday, July 27th at the Epoch Institute in Second Life

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This Week’s Topic

Does “Instant Access to Everything” Cause Polarization of Opinions?

I’ve often heard the comment that the Internet exposes people of all types to more diverse opinions, with more facts and background, than ever before, that this is inherently good for discourse, and good for the generation of better ultimate decisions – whether in terms of political process or other decisions. Phrase in another way, this is “wisdom of the crowds” at global scale. On a gut level, this makes sense. More people and opinions ought to create a more balanced view, and although there will be some with extreme opinions, it is generally thought that the wisdom of the crowd will corrall them in workable fashion.

The Boston Globe ran an article this week titled “How Facts Backfire” (listed in the reading links below as well) that really got me thinking. The article pointed to work done at the University of Michigan (the published paper is also linked below for reference) that indicated a tendency for people to take more extreme positions in the face of corrective facts. This seems to fly in the face of the basis of an informed electorate providing the best case for a reasoned choice, and seems to call in to question the idea of wisdom of the crowds.

From a different perspective, the explosion of people posting raw information, sometimes carefully edited or not fact-checked, on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and many other social media systems, has created the appearance of a deluge of (maybe) factual information that is so vast we have no hope of ever understanding it all. The politicized, highly public debate about Shirley Shirrod’s at-first edited words, and then the publication of the full video, provide one view in to how our society handles the new hyper-speed, influence-driven environment in which we now find ourselves living. I’ve included a link to one blog post about this incident, in particular because it has both versions of the now-infamous speech on one page. You can find plenty more with a few clicks if you’d like!

The indexing of the web has generated an apparent global fact overload, available in seconds from a simple search engine query. Does this fact overload trigger the polarization reflex revealed int he University of Michigan study? Does it lead to moderation? How can our propensity for instant gratification, and lessened chance of correcting factual mistakes, lead us to the land of better, more informed discourse, given both what we have seen to date and this new research?

Join us Tuesday at 12PM noon U.S. Pacific / 3pm U.S. Eastern time for an interactive discussion, and thanks for being part of “We Are The Network”!

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Best regards,


Reading links below – have fun and see you soon!

Group Polarization (Wikipedia)

How Facts Backfire: Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains  (The Boston Globe)

When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions (University of Michigan)

Political polarization in news indicates marketing strategy (Chris Leal – The Daily Toreador)

How a Polarized Media Perpetuates a Divided America (TheLoop21.com)

Turning around Polarized Mindsets in Workplace Mediations (Mediate.com)

NAACP Releases Video of Shirley Shirrod Speech (blog post comparing blogger-edited excerpt initially posted with the full speech

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Joel Foner (Second Life: Joel Savard)


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