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Pew: The Internet is Polarizing US Politics. Really?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, March 17 2011

The good folks at the Pew Internet & American Life Project are out with another one of their regular updates on the Internet's role in politics, and the takeaway appears to be: The net is fueling extremism and making America more polarized. To wit, Pew reports, "55% of all internet users feel that the internet increases the influence of those with extreme political views, compared with 30% who say that the internet reduces the influence of those with extreme views by giving ordinary citizens a chance to be heard." This could be true, or it could be a false positive. What if people are conflating things? Arguably politics in America is more polarized, but cable TV and talk radio and paid negative political advertising are driving that shift, while the Internet is just an overall disruptive force that is enabling lots of more people to speak up and connect with the like-minded and unlike-minded alike. Unfortunately, Pew's survey didn't ask people about other possible causes of political polarization, so we can't know one way or the other.