Responses in reaction to the following statement
were assembled from a select group of 1,286 Internet stakeholders
in the fall 2004 Pew Internet & American Life "Experts Survey."
The survey allowed respondents to select from the choices "agree,"
"disagree" or "I challenge" the predictive
statement. Some respondents chose to expand on their answer
to this statement by accepting the invitation to write an explanation
of their position; many did not. Some respondents chose to indentify
themselves with their answer; many did not. We share some -
not all - of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents whose
reactions are listed below are attributed here only for the
purpose of indicating a level of internet expertise; the statements
reflect personal viewpoints and do not represent their companies'
or government agencies' policies or positions. Some answers
have been edited in order to share more respondents' replies.
Below is a selection of the many carefully considered responses
to the following statement:
Prediction on politics
By 2014, most people will use the internet in a way that filters
out information that challenges their viewpoints on political
and social issues. This will further polarize political discourse
and make it difficult or impossible to develop meaningful consensus
on public problems.
Compiled reactions from the 1,286
32% of internet experts agreed
13% challenged the prediction
18% did not respond
Because the internet is such a gift economy, we'll continue
to follow links from our friends. But we'll also develop meaningful
shared spaces for discussion, and we'll be able to see one another
there in the form of avatars. Both will happen. Consensus will
be both easier and harder. Visualization of information will
be the key development in the next ten years, and it may help
consensus emerge. But groups will be tighter. - Susan Crawford,
policy fellow with the Center for Democracy & Technology and
the Yale Law School Information Society Project
Thank heavens for cross-cutting cleavages! Yes people may spend
more time networking with fellow Republicans/Democrats/environmentalists/fundamentalist
Christians. But they'll also spend more time networking with
fellow Red Sox fans/Labrador owners/amateur carpenters/Edith
Wharton fans. And anyone who has ever been part of an online
community knows how hard it is to prevent off-topic threads
and discussion. Politics will always pop up in for a that are
organized around trans-partisan lines, so it may be that there
are MORE opportunities for bridging as well as bonding online.
- Alexandra Samuel, Harvard University/Cairns Project (New
York Law School)
I suspect that people will be able to effectively filter the
information they are exposed to, but I also think that people
today are capable of selectively perceiving the information
they are presented. I suspect that the move toward polarization
will be accompanied (and counterbalanced) by new forms of public
deliberation and exchange. - A. Halavais, State University
of New York at Buffalo
It is not the Internet that drives polarization of the electorate.
Rather, polarization stems from the inability to find common
ground when values differ. Polarization in American society
will continue; the Internet will serve to abet this tendency.
- Jorge Reina Schement, Penn State University
The first part of the prediction has been established long before
today - selective perception. At the start of the 20th century,
competing newspapers had an acknowledged labor or a business
or a political point of view and it was typical for people to
buy the paper that reinforced their viewpoint. Nothing new here.
Make it "impossible" to develop consensus? Doubtful. Compromise
will survive. - Benjamin M. Compaine, editor of "The Digital
Divide: Facing a Crisis or Creating a Myth?" and coauthor of
"Who Owns the Media?"
What is "meaningful consensus"? Did we ever have a "meaningful
consensus" at any point during the 19th century, when there
was no internet to speak of? - Fred Hapgood, Output Ltd.
I think there is enough diversity and leakiness in conversations
and personal networks that alternative viewpoints will still
be realized. - Barry Wellman, University of Toronto
Well, we already have that (polarized discourse) today, don't
we? - Bill Eager, internet expert
The only countervailing influence would be for major publications
to make it difficult to receive totally customized feeds. That
is, in order to receive the New York Times editorial page webfeed,
a person would need to receive both David Brooks and Paul Krugman
- all or nothing. We are already seeing the effects of polarization
on cable TV viewership. During the Democratic convention, CNN
viewership was up; during the Republican convention, Fox viewership
was up. As the blogosphere grows, it will be possible to insulate
oneself almost completely from opposing viewpoints. I would
ideally like to see a voluntary "pairing" of opposing online
publications that would encourage people to expose themselves
to alternative - even abhorrent - viewpoints. How possible is
that? - Lois Ambash, Metaforix Inc.
This is the way most people run their lives, Internet or no
Internet. The Internet makes it just as easy to get a quick
overview of the political landscape from all viewpoints as it
does to filter out opposing views. If you prefer to have your
thinking go unchallenged, you'll choose the Internet in the
latter manner; if you seek to widen discourse, you'll use it
to keep tabs on multiple viewpoints. - Rose Vines, freelance
tech journalist, Australian PC User and Sydney Morning Herald
There will be so much information that people will deal with
it by filtering. It will be possible to get whatever viewpoint
is desired, and it will be favored. - Ted Eytan, MD, Group
Means of integrating mass media communications will evolve to
make sure we keep a good mix of materials. If you don't want
to know the news you don't read the paper or watch TV - for
some this will be true online as well. But there will always
be those who want to lead and together build consensus for dealing
with the problems of the day. Just because we have the Internet,
it doesn't mean we will lose the silent masses out there. -
Liz Rykert, Metastrategies Inc.
This might be true for some, but many are using and will use
the Internet as an easy and harmless way to explore differing
points of view. Listservs and online chat provide opportunities
to interact and see "conventional wisdom" challenged. With newspapers
publishing online, there will be greater accessibility to opinion
and greater opportunity to interact with opinion writers. It
is difficult to come to the conclusion that the Internet will
polarize political discourse to the extent suggested. -
Ezra Miller, Ibex Consulting
If the right new services emerge, this won't turn out to be
the case. And I have faith that the right services will emerge.
- Gordon Strause, Judy’s Book
People welcome controlled dissent - they want to know that there
is another perspective out there, and many pursue the opportunity
to challenge that perspective. Technology and the internet are
a facilitator for that. - Brian Reich, internet strategist
for Mindshare Interactive and editor of the political blog campaignwebreview.com
Economic, social and political developments, certainly in the
UK suggest the opposite. Individuals are becoming less partisan
and less certain in their views. Therefore, we may have citizens
with a miss-mash of views. What might be changing (and not just
because of technology) is the very nature of politics. -
Nigel Jackson, Bournemouth University, UK
Frankly, I think people like a good fight over these issues.
They can filter out these viewpoints now, and they don't. I
am not afraid of this. - Arlene Morgan, Columbia School
To some degree this is already happening and the divisiveness
of this election is proof that Cass Sunstein is at least partially
right. But as I have argued in the Boston Review, I think he
is underestimating the range of different kinds of affiliations
people have and the degree to which social, cultural, and recreational
connections may be more important to them than political alliances.
The result is that many alternative perspectives will get through
such filters because they will be part of other kinds of conversations
people are holding. - Harry Jenkins, MIT
I disagree with the "polarizing" statement. One of the major
benefits of the Internet is access to a variety of different
points of view and sources of information. I think this will
continue to be a benefit of online communication. - Gary
Kreps, George Mason University
As internet users increasingly set filters and personalize,
there will be a backlash fueling the rise in services and sites
devoted to pure serendipity. Many people will gravitate away
from detailed personalization in favor of the pleasure of not
knowing what's next. Those who read a daily newspaper even though
the same content is on the internet for free often do so because
they enjoy not knowing what's on the next page. Editors will
rise in importance, as people realize that too much personalization
and individual search stifles creativity and curiosity. At the
broadest level, there are exactly two ways to use and deploy
content on the Web. Most organizations put too much effort on
one just way: "Answer my question." While not spending enough
energy on the other: "Tell me something." Too often the content
that's deployed on sites helps visitors solve only half of their
needs. The more obvious way to conceive of Web site navigational
design is to help users answer a question. To illustrate this
concept, consider one of the Web's best-known sites, Google,
which in its purest form exists only to answer questions. With
a site or content product organized only around answering questions,
users must already know what they want before proceeding. But
people also need services or sites to tell them something. Contrast
Google with another famous site, Drudge Report. It doesn’t answer
questions at all; rather, it tells visitors stuff they didn't
think to ask. Organizations will build sites to encourage serendipity
and browsing. - David M. Scott, Fresh Spot Marketing and
If people just want to hear their own point of view, they don't
need to pay for an Internet connection - they can just listen
to themselves and their likeminded friends at no cost. -
Elliot Chabot, senior systems analyst, House Information Resources
(U.S. House of Representatives)
Increased communication is unlikely to produce narrower communication.
Even those groups against the mainstream generally discuss it,
if only to denounce it. More information will always be only
a click way. - William Stewart, LivingInternet.com
This is basically the main finding of my dissertation, so I'd
have to take about 300 pages, the conclusion of which can be
found here: http://www.nutball.com/dissertation/mains/Conclusion.html.
- Christine Boese, cyberculture researcher/CNN Headline
The Internet, as is true of cable or satellite TV and print
publications will continue to include a mix of the highly specific
and the more general. People will still have broader views available
to them in the media they consume. - John B. Mahaffie, Leading
Technology doesn't polarize people; personal, professional,
and organizational conduct polarizes people. The Internet will
not substantially affect the trend of hyper-hysteria already
at work today in politics. If anything, the Internet will continue
to provide alternative voices and outlets that allows for a
greater dissemination of ideas beyond the increasingly radical
and liberal mass media. I think the lack of visionary leadership
and personal character is more responsible for our nation to
find meaningful consensus. No technology can cause or change
that. - Daniel Weiss, media analyst, Focus on the Family
In fact, although we like to read information from people who
agree with us, the Internet makes it even easier for us to seek
out and read opposing views. - Mike Weisman, Reclaim the
It will be easier to learn about and understand issues from
different points of view, which will enable people to make informed
decisions about political and social issues. This prediction
also has the misconception that we ''develop meaningful consensus
on public problems'' today. People WILL choose when they want
to filter out dissenting opinions and when they want to understand
other viewpoints. - Lyle Kantrovich, usability expert, Cargill/blogger
By 2014 people will acquire, through interactive technologies,
the ability to filter most information they are exposed to,
not just that which arrives through Internet means. I'm not
sure this on its own will change anything. There is little difference
in the societal outcome in filtering by choice and being restricted
from exposure certain types of information by mass media ownership
concentration. It returns to the notion that there are two types
of information consumers - those who actively seek it, and those
who are passively subjected to it. Consensus building has more
to do with promoting societal principles of participation and
the ideas that diversity of opinion, critical thinking, and
open discussion are essential things to a healthy Democracy.
Those who learn that filtering is the best way to get along
will filter more effectively through interactive choice. Those
who learn that health, both mental and societal, comes from
open discourse and respect for a diversity of opinion, will
use the Internet as they do now, as a tool to seek information
that in some instances can also be used enable dialogue. -
Sam Punnett, FAD Research
The 'Net should have the opposite affect on ''most people.''
Sure, crazy folk will find crazy folk. But the masses will use
the 'Net for their first news and will go to trusted sites for
affirmation and/or information that they seek. The level of
political discourse should rise in proportion to the penetration
of the 'Net and the availability of trusted sources. - B.
Keith Fulton, Verizon Communications
I can't see how this would be possible ... the Internet is the
ultimate free-speech printing press. - Graham Lovelace,
Lovelacemedia Ltd., UK
People will be increasingly exposed to alternate viewpoints.
My personal experience is that people are engaging in constructive,
spirited dialogue far more now that ever before as a result
of the Internet. Plus we are better informed and can check our
facts quickly and easily. - Peter W. Van Ness, Van Ness
People do this already, in print media and television. Liberals
don't watch Fox News. Overlap in the subscriber lists of the
American Spectator and [insert liberal rag here] are small.
Reasoned discourse will continue to flow, but it won't make
headlines, any more than it does now. Net result: no real increase
in polarization traceable to the Internet specifically. -
Mike O'Brien, The Aerospace Corporation
If current trends continue, then fragmentation of the public
sphere is one of the biggest challenges that a democratic polity
must face. - Albrecht Hofheinz, University of Oslo
People will turn to the Internet and be led like sheep on how
and what to think. - Tom Egelhoff, smalltownmarketing.com
People filter all the time. Fox News vs. the BBC. Deleting some
e-mail, reading other messages. This is just another channel
that enables filtering. AND exposing oneself to broader views.
Depends who's doing it. - Rebecca Lieb, Jupitermedia
It's already happening when people buying one book on Amazon
are given suggestions as to what also to buy and the subjects
are always related. Similarly, websites and blogs attract like-minded
people and rarely link out to sites/blogs with a different viewpoint.
- Bornali Halder, World Development Movement
I believe people truly seek accurate information, from whatever
source. Filters will play a role, but most will want as much
information from all viewpoints as possible. - Ted Christensen,
Arizona Board of Regents
Many people will still check out ''mainstream'' media, and many
will still ignore it and/or interpret it eccentrically. But
that's always been the case. Centralized media (like the big
three TV networks) probably provided more of an illusion of
society-wide consensus to people near the center of power than
they did the real thing. The only thing that may change is that
people inside the beltway believed that Walter Cronkite represented
the majority or the center, whereas they're now realizing that
Dan Rather is just another guy with a point of view. - Tom
Streeter, University of Vermont
And the following are from predictors who chose to remain
anonymous: [Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are listed
below include USA Today, Global Village, Microsoft, Internet2,
Disney, Future of Music Coalition, MoveOn.org, Michigan State
University, Harvard University, University of Illinois at Chicago,
Fordham University School of Law, Integrated Media Association,
National Center for Technology and Law, Proteus Foundation,
Discern LLC, Indiana University, Northwestern University, University
of East Anglia, MIT Media Lab, IBM, Education Development Center,
Avenue A/Razorfish, Progressive Policy Institute, AT&T,
Gartner, Yankelovich, General Motors Corporation, Centers for
Disease Control, FCC, Congressional Management Foundation and
I still think there is a good chance that the center will hold.
People have a lot in common with each other.
Are you kidding? The internet is the greatest thing that has
ever happened to expand the number of voices that need to be
I don't know if it makes it impossible but it has contributed
greatly to the phenomenon of the divided nation.
A subclass that spans political and ideological
divides may arise, one that encourages people to question what
they're being told.
I believe that people realize - or will realize - that diversity
is needed for a good decision making process. I think the notion
that consensus, or common good, is the goal will give way to
enlightened self-interest. That is all that can be expected,
it also is all that is needed. The polarization is independent
of the internet.
I believe the internet will allow for exactly the opposite -
less censorship and more diverse range of information sharing.
Filtering happens in the print world and it happens in the internet
world. Even if technology makes it easier ... I do not think
increased use of filtering will polarize discourse.
The internet will amplify existing tendencies for both expansive
and narrow viewpoints. The way we reach consensus will need
I may be an optimist, but I do observe that people of various
convictions actually seek information. There are zealots, but
they are not a majority.
People tend to consume the media - whether the Web or print
or TV - that agrees with their personal point of view. I don't
believe you can attribute the Web's filtering capabilities as
the cause. When you choose any information, you filter.
I do expect polarization to be increased by the expansion of
more narrowly defined/targeted information flows.
People prefer to operate in their cultural comfort zone ingrained
from a very young age.
People will lose the ability or desire to consider the potential
validity of another point of view. The outcomes of this could
destroy the ability of any democracy to function. Democracy
demands a certain respect for the loyal opposition.
Most people will not understand the bias and filtering capabilities
of technology and will not be able to affirmatively choose filters.
Information will still be filter, but more likely in ways that
are surreptitious and insidious.
Here the problem is with "most people." "Most people" do filter
information to reduce the quantity of information that challenges
them and increases the flow of information that supports their
world view. But I do not see that the Internet will exacerbate
I hope not and in fact believe just the opposite.
Human nature as it is, people are likely to use the technology
to do this. Whether the second sentence comes true or not depends
upon what other discourse takes place in their lives - television,
the workplace, etc. I am not too concerned about this possibility.
The large center of people are not polarized highly in their
politics and are open to different perspectives. Polarized people
of the right and left, though, are likely to become more polarized.
People already do this with other media - what books and newspapers
they read, the radio shows they listen to, the television shows
they watch. The Internet is no different.
Most people do not use even the most basic filters! Most people
do not belong to what we Brits call the chattering classes,
but to the working classes and the working classes derive their
information from well-established channels, which set a definite
bias, but do not create extreme opinions.
I'm a progressive politically, but I wound up reading the Instapundit
(pro-war) blog every day, and supported the war. The net lets
you believe what you want to believe, and have it reinforced
by fellow believers.
Information overload, and invasion of the personal desktop,
occurs more and more and yes, I believe we will filter. Every
spam message, troll on a listserv, and commercial message invades
our personal computer space. I think we will fight to have that
back using whatever filtering we can. Will we cut out political
and social discussion? How many people listen to them now? Those
who filter now, will filter then. I don't see that debate will
be any more or less polarized that before. It may just be more
visible on Internet discussions.
The second proposition doesn't necessarily follow from the first.
I suspect that exposure to challenging views, as in the current
mass media that tend to exaggerate them, has a polarizing effect.
Ignorance could engender tolerance, conversely. I agree with
the first statement, however.
I think most people will know more about different points of
view than they did in 1994.
In the U.S. we will have more enlightened individuals - those
who will have grown up using the Internet and being able to
better discern truth from fiction, political rhetoric from fact.
I think by 2014, citizens will use the Internet to investigate
issues on their own, leading perhaps to a unified base of facts
on which to formulate their own judgments.
Sunstein is wrong! Online discussion is not as polarised as
what Wilhelm, Davis, etc. made out (see Stromer-Galley, Wright,
etc.). What is needed is efficient online mediation - see Hansard
I would like to think that the opposite will happen - that because
information is so easy to get and accessing information becomes
more private (the neighbors won't see you buying alternative
press at the local shops) that people could actually access
more diverse opinions. This probably won't happen. But I think
that email might help, because people are often sending friends
and family links to articles and information that the recipient
would not necessarily seek out on their own.
This is always a popular prediction, but I don't see that happening
any more than it does now (a) because I'm not sure most people
are so terribly frightened of views that differ from there,
and (b) actually filtering in information on the basis of content
is very difficult, especially if people set out to subvert said
I agree with the first sentence. However, I think that television,
and to a lesser extent print publications, will continue to
play a major role in shaping consensus, as will social institutions
such as clubs, political parties, and churches.
Currently, people watch programs or read publications that meet
their viewpoint but they are still aware of opposing issues.
I don't think this dynamic will change.
Highly unlikely, in part because most Internet users won't be
sophisticated and/or interested enough to set their preferences
There will be freedom of speech on the Internet that cannot
be suppressed in a free country. Alternative sources of information,
web bloggers, Instant Messaging devices and other Internet tools
are too numerous to censor.
Unfortunately, it does seem that people are signing up for ''email
alerts'' and such from media that reflect their own biases.
However, the general media (cable stations, newspapers, etc.)
is also moving to putting a stake in the ground that pegs them
publicly to a specifically ''right'' or ''left,'' liberal or
conservative, orientation to reporting. Internet filters just
exaggerate the effect of this.
This is the way we have always used newspapers, television and
radio, and mass media generally. Do we think the Internet is
in some way different, or that its network effects amplify the
Think this could but might not necessarily happen. We're already
seeing fragmenting and segmenting in media usage and the way
media is sold and distributed. Combined with there just being
so much info out there, and ease of connecting with like-minded
people, can see many people finding it easiest to read or participate
what interests them, while tuning out of what doesn't.
As the trends predicted by both George Orwell in 1984 and A.
Huxley in "Brave New World" and Herbert Marcuse in "One-Dimensional
Man" continue to emerge, people will increasingly get sanitized
propaganda-cum-news. Again, this is a function of social relations,
People will increasingly encounter more diverse views by using
This accepts the western bipolar view of the world, where issues
are divided between the resolutions A or Not A. But of course,
that is not the way the world works. Issues are dynamic and
interrelated. Resolutions are complex. Shifts in small paradigms
follow chaos theory and result in dramatic shifts in resolutions
and situations. So great will the information exchange become
that isolationism will be all but impossible. Why, some nit
may ask a survey limited to predictions about the future, and
get back answers about Karl Marx, Plato and theories of society
A lot of people probably will, but I have enough faith in the
American people to believe that they will want to occasionally
encounter different viewpoints. I also think that since people
use the Internet based on their personal interests - which may
or may not include political and social issues - they will encounter
different viewpoints in the course of their Internet use, even
if they are filtering according to their interests. In other
words, I don't think people's interests always fall along political