11/16- Is the internet really a blessing for democracy?-Julia Duchossois

In Is the internet really a blessing for democracy, Cass Sunstein argues that the ability for users to filter their experiences online poses a threat to democracy because by allowing users to choose exactly what is in their feed, it is taking away from their understanding of other points of view, which is crucial to tackling social issues and understanding one another.

Sunstein begins by arguing that free speech actions help promote understanding of different points of view by explaining the laws of free speech in public places. Sunstein argues that intermediaries, like television and radio shows, help in exposing people to a variety of issues and views, promoting a diverse set of views for the audience. With the ability to filter to only hearing one point of view, many issues are becoming more polarized due to the fact that groups of people are hearing solely their own point of view, creating a gap in their understanding of other opinions on the issues (Sunstein calls this group polarization). Interestingly, Sunstein says that the internet is a breeding ground for this type of polarization because members of these groups can communicate everyday online without interruption from those with other points of view (and even if the information they are deliberating is wrong). Overall, Sunstein seeks to present the dangers, both individually and societally, of a fragmented online communications market, and thus calls for shared experiences to be had due to their ability to ease social interactions, create shared goals and promote enjoyment of common things.

I find Sunstein’s argument both important and relatable. Without noticing, I probably surround myself with similar types of information, either based off of what my peers are talking about or what is on my social media page. It makes sense that we may be becoming more polarized on issues due to only hearing one kind of information, especially in an age where reading multiple news sources is not the top priority for many. However, I do see the value in understanding multiple points of view of an issue, and we can all do this by making simple changes in our habits like reading different news sources throughout the week or by exploring the internet beyond just what is promoted to us.

3 thoughts on “11/16- Is the internet really a blessing for democracy?-Julia Duchossois

  1. This point is so interesting. I definitely agree with Cass Sunstein in that by filtering what you see, you’re limiting your own knowledge on different topics. While it’s great to find people who share similar values, it’s just as important to hear what others have to say– even if you might disagree. It not only may make you more open to new ideas, but it can also strengthen your own values even more if you know more about a topic. It’s OK to not agree with others online, but I think it can be damaging to limit your understanding.

  2. Julia, your thesis statement and your summary of Sunstein’s points were really interesting. I also surround myself with people who (for the most part) think the same as me. During my first semester at Lehigh, I took a Media & Society course taught by Professor Littau and we learned about the deleterious effects of echo chambers/surrounding yourself with information and people that think like you. Echo chambers distort people’s perspectives on society since they are not confronted by differing beliefs and opinions. Therefore, I agree with you and also think that it would be beneficial to make small changes to our habits to break any potential echo chambers that we might be in, such as reading different news sources and watching different media platforms.

  3. I agree with your points as well – immersing yourself in person and online with people who think the same things as you cause people to be validated in their opinions without even trying to listen to the other side. I understand why this happens online from the point of view of the technology developers – it is likely that giving the people information that confirms their beliefs may increase their user experience. However, this is dangerous when people are blindsided to other views.

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