Mapping a closed room

A diagram of the echo chamber effect? (via Jill)

In this paper, the authors studied the linking patterns and discussion topics of political bloggers. The goal was to measure the degree of interaction between liberal and conservative blogs, and to uncover any differences in the structure of the two communities.

(...) Most significantly, the authors found differences in the behavior of liberal and conservative blogs, with conservative blogs linking to each other more frequently and in a denser pattern.
I read this paper far too quickly (but it's worth a read, despite the heavy material, if nothing else for the awesome graphics), but it seems to quantify what I've been mentioning over the past couple of weeks, that bloggers tend to confirm their own opinions and stay within their own sphere of people they agree with. It seems that conservatives are slightly more internally coherent, linking much more actively to each other and commenting more on each other's posts. However, both liberals and conservatives link at roughly the same rate to sources outside the blogosphere. However, they don't link to the same sources. Conservatives are very likely to get their news from different sources than liberals. For instance, it seems like Fox News gets over 65% of its hits from conservatives while Salon gets 86% of its hits from liberal blogs.

What this tells me, and pardon me for jumping to conclusions based on a seemingly very complex data set, is that some of my tabloid assumptions about the political reality seems to be reflected in the blogosphere. This might either mean that I read too many blogs, or that I am right in thinking that:

1) The dichotomization of the political sphere is increasing, in the US increasingly on the way to becoming two separate worlds, two separate realities. This trend seems also to be ongoing in Norway. Note how few links there are in the graphics from the liberal blogosphere to the conservative and vice versa.

2) Blogs can, in the hands of the wrong people, be tools for self-gratifying, front-solidifying non-debate as a simple confirmation of one's chosen identity. It can be a tool for populism; simple arguments; instant, reflexive spin and groupthink. This is particularly rampant in the political American blogosphere.

3) Liberals do this just as much (or at least almost as much) as conservatives do. However, the right is better at political coherence. It is better at presenting a coherent political front to the public than the left is, and better at energising its base (I suspect this is also true outside of the blogosphere. It is certainly the case in Norway). This is a rhetorical point, and has nothing to do with whether or not this is the best way of doing things from a moral standpoint, but it does mean that the conservatives have an upper hand in the rhetorical political sphere, and rhetorics, in parliamentary democracies and federal republics, translate into power and power translates into bad, bad things.


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