Friday, September 7, 2007

Sunstein: Corroboration Breeds Extremism

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein spoke at the Carnegie Council this morning about his new book 2.0. He referred to several studies that showed that when like-minded people talk to one another, they tend to become more confident in their views. Anyone who follows an online discussion, particularly about politics, will be familiar with this phenomenon. Sunstein calls it group polarization.

Moreover, people want to see themselves in a certain way: different but in the right direction. So if an animal rights group, for example, starts out with a reasonable discussion on Friday, by Sunday they may have lost their collective mind. Blogs and the Internet chat space in general amplify this peculiarity in human behavior. My News, my Google, my Space--all narrow the discussion, confirm what you believe, and can make you more extreme in your views.

Sunstein's suggestions:

1. Respectful linking - as a form of political charity, discussions should try to link to opposing views out of respect rather than out of disgust. Few bloggers link to people with opposing views unless they want to show how foolish the other side is. Perhaps bloggers should actually consider the other side and take it seriously.

2. Deliberative forums - create discussions between groups of opposing views without making it into a sporting event. A panel with people sitting next to people who disagree with them may be less vulnerable to group polarization. Studies seem to back up this notion as well.

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