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Worth Watching: Pariser, Vaidhyanathan, Morozov and Weisberg On Whether the Internet is Closing Our Minds

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, April 18 2012

They say that anyone who knows what's good for him will avoid arguing on the Internet.

But what of arguing about the Internet?

That's what four net-centric thinkers — MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser, "Googlization of Everything" author Siva Vaidhyanathan, Slate's Jacob Weisberg and "Net Delusion" author Evgeny Morozov — did Tuesday at an Oxford-style debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. and held here in New York. At issue: "When it Comes to Politics, The Internet is Closing Our Minds.”

Pariser — author of "The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You" — and Vaidhyanathan argued in favor and won by moving 25 percent of attendees over to their position.

The debate is available to watch on FORA.tv and will also be broadcast on NPR stations nationwide.

"What’s relevant is whether people come into daily contact with more different sources and more particular, different ideological ones," Pariser argued in an excerpt released by Intelligence Squared. "The regular folk don’t read sites like Global Voices, an aggregator of the most interesting blog posts from all over the world. Instead they are more likely to use the Internet to rediscover their own culture and dare we say it, their own national bigotry. Big companies are rapidly working to personalize your version of the web.”

"Facebook and Google and Microsoft and Apple all wish to be the operating systems of our lives ... They want to be your personal assistant," said Vaidhyanathan. "And it might make things really cool for us. But it's not going to make things rich and diverse. It's not going to be the wonderful conversation that we could have had on the web if we hadn't instigated these gated communities, these operating systems of our lives.”

Before the debate 28 percent of the audience agreed with the resolution, a number that was up to 53 percent afterwards.

"The way Google and Facebook map out our social connections, they try to be very comprehensive. We see links from people we went to school with, our colleagues, our relatives, and so forth. It’s quite likely that many of these people will have radically different positions on 9/11, climate change, Obama’s birthplace, and UFOs," Morozov argued. "So my point with this is that a link to the report of the 9/11 commission that has been endorsed by someone from my social circle, is trustworthier than a generic Google link that has not passed through a similar social filter."

Weisberg acknowledged the divisiveness in Congress, but attributed it to polarizing news sources like Fox News, and discounted the influence of the web, saying that "if you want to look for a group of people who really aren't on the Internet very much, that's them. I mean, I don't think it's what's driving it."

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