Does the 'Net Balkanize us?

· The Power of Many

Sunday’s NYTimes carried an article (“Politics of the Web: Meet, Greet, Segregate, Meet Again”) claiming that the Internet suppresses the exchange of differing views. Bowling Alone‘s Putnam is quoted to the effect that the Internet is a tool and the verdict is still out on whether it will be for good or evil. But otherwise all quotes and examples given are on the side of this thesis:

Online political discussion has become so fragmented so quickly that some public policy scolds warn that the Internet is in danger of narrowing the spectrum of debate even as it attracts more participants to it. The same medium that allows people to peruse a near- infinite number of news sources also lets them pinpoint the ones they want and filter out the rest.

Blogger Jack Balkin disagrees:

Unfortunately, this article continues a meme that I have often found among progressive people– that the Internet is bad for democracy. I think that this view is deeply mistaken. The Internet has its strengths and weaknesses, just like the traditional mass media have. The question is not whether the Internet is good or is bad for democracy. The key question is how the Internet changes the ways that democratic activities of organization, discussion, protest, and decisionmaking occur, and how the code of the Internet can be altered in different ways and different contexts to promote these different forms of democratic activity.