Several years ago while I was still in journalism graduate school at Indiana University, I remember being taught in one of my classes about the potential for the internet to ruin the minds of everyone. The right would get righter, the left would get lefter and nobody would actually have all the right information.
And the prediction makes sense.
Online, you can choose to read whatever you want. You can choose to go to whatever websites you want. Thus, if you’re really far right on the conservative scale, you might only read stories and articles that are in line with your views. You never get another viewpoint and – let’s face it – are probably fed slightly skewed information.
Before you get all up in arms, the same is true for the liberals out there.
So, the theory goes, birds of a feather will flock together and everyone will just reinforce their own viewpoints. As most smart, intellectually based theories are, this sounds logically sound and makes pretty good sense. However, according to a new book written by David Tewksbury, head of the University of Illinois’ Department of Communication, and former graduate student Jason Rittenberg, the theory is completely wrong.
“Many things that we thought were going to be really horrible have not yet happened,” Tewksbury said.
According to the research, half of the online news consumers out there are very selective about what the follow. And since half of them only care about sports, that leaves only a quarter of the online news consuming community who turn blinders on to the other side. Half of all online news readers are seeking out a broad cross-section of news.
“We don’t have a lot of evidence that public affairs knowledge is going down because of audience fragmentation,” Tewksbury said. “Many people know quite a bit about what’s going on. They are attending to news in a relatively uniform fashion. It’s not as if everyone has suddenly become more ignorant than they used to be.”
So well done, America, and keep it up. And if you’re one of those in the minority, think about reading some articles written by those whom you disagree with now and then. They just may – and probably do – have some valid arguments.