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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is the Internet Closing Our Minds When it Comes to Politics?

Here's an interesting Intelligence Squared debate ("When it Comes to Politics, the Internet is Closing Our Minds"), one that addresses the issue of political polarization, and one that I coincidentally listened to just a few days after my post on diversity and how the lack thereof can lead to polarization ("What Counts for Diversity") and while I was in the midst of writing a follow-up post on diversity and stereotypes (which will be my next post). Here's a description of the debate from the Intelligence Squared website:
Does the internet poison politics? It’s been argued that the rise of “personalization,” the use of algorithms to filter what you see online, and easy access to the like-minded, have served to reinforce our pre-conceptions. Is the information bubble a myth, or is it undermining civic discourse? Is the rise of social media really broadening our world views, or narrowing them?
Prior to listening to the debate, I was unfamiliar with the debaters, but I thought they all did quite well and found many of their arguments compelling. Here's a description of those who argued on behalf of the motion:

Eli Pariser, the author of The Filter Bubble & former Board President, is is the former executive director of, which at five million members is one of the largest citizens' organizations in American politics, and now sits on the board. He's currently the CEO of, a new site focused on spreading ideas that matter online. In his renowned book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Pariser reveals how personalization undermines the Internet's original purpose as an open platform for the spread of ideas.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, is the chair of the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia & author of The Googlization of Everything, is a cultural historian and media scholar, Siva Vaidhyanathan is currently the Robertson Professor and the Chair of the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. He also teaches at the University of Virginia School of Law. The author of The Googlization of Everything and Why We Should Worry, Vaidhyanathan is a frequent contributor to the American Scholar, The Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Slate and The Nation. Named “one of academe’s best-known scholars of intellectual property and its role in contemporary culture” by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Vaidhyanathan has testified as an expert before the U.S. Copyright Office on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

And here is a description of those who argued against it:

Evgeny Morozov is the author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. Morozov is currently a visiting scholar in the Liberation Technology program at Stanford University and a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation. He was formerly a Yahoo! fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and a fellow at George Soros's Open Society Foundations, where he also served on the board of the Information Program. Before moving to the US, Morozov was Director of New Media at Transitions Online, a Prague-based media development NGO active in 29 countries of the former Soviet bloc. He's written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Slate, The New Republic and other publications.

Jacob Weisberg is the Chairman & Editor-in-Chief of The Slate Group, which is a division of The Washington Post Company. A native of Chicago, he attended Yale University and New College, Oxford. From 1989 until 1994, he worked as a writer and editor at The New Republic. Between 1994 and 1996, he wrote the National Interest column forNew York Magazine. In the fall of 1996, he joined Slate as Chief Political Correspondent. He succeeded Michael Kinsley as editor of Slate in 2002. He has also been a Contributing Writer for The New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor of Vanity Fair and a reporter for Newsweek in London and Washington, and a weekly columnist for the Financial Times. In 2007, Min Magazine named him Web Editor of the Year.

As with all Intelligence Squared debates, those attending vote before and after the debate, and the winning team is decided by how many minds were changed and in what direction. As always not only can you listen to the debate at the Intelligence Squared website ("When it Comes to Politics, the Internet is Closing Our Minds"), but you can access transcripts of the debate as well. The debates can also be downloaded from iTunes.

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