Are blogs and similar forms of interactive media responsible for the Balkanization of the American political body?

Certainly plenty of evidence exists to show the rifts are wide. Blogs are divided between left leaning versions, such as the extremely powerful Daily Kos, and those on the right, including the Drudge Report and Red State.

The divide isn’t limited to online interactive media, however. Fox Newsserves a population that wants an alternative to what has been described as a liberal media bias in broadcast. Radio talk shows serve a similar purpose. Political books and movies speak to alternative visions.

People have plenty of opportunities to hear, read and view opinions similar to their own. In blogs and other forms of OSIM, they have the opportunity to express their views and trade observations with like-minded people.

The problem is this: very few people are talking across the divide.

Agenda Setting
Agenda Setting theory posits that media do not dictate what people think, but they do dictate what people think about. In the days when the main sources of news were broadcast television networks and their affiliates and local and national newspapers, the agenda for public discourse was common among Americans regardless of political stripe. Opinions differed; the topics were the same.

As the Internet becomes the predominate source of news and information, and with hundreds of broadcast stations from which to choose, the common agenda is dissipating.

The political divide is becoming cultural.

Keeping the Dingo at Bay
I worked overseas for several years without access to American television. The program, Seinfeld, had become extremely popular in my absence, and upon my return to the US it became a symbol to me of reverse culture shock. Seinfeld references confused the heck out of me. What is one to respond when, during the course of an otherwise normal conversation, someone turns and says: “Maybe a dingo ate your baby?”

I sometimes have baby-eating dingo moments when listening to friends whose political viewpoints are the polar opposite of mine. I’ve seen that wide-eyed and somewhat fearful dingo look on the faces of people who hear me discuss topics that I consider of political interest, but for which they have no common background.

Feeling ostracized by the tribe is one of the most primitive and deepest types of fear. Without a common base of news and political discourse, dingo moments are likely to be more frequent. The tribe of Americans will splinter into factions.

I’m not sure how to correct this problem, but I am encouraged by small things. In regard to the divide in internet-based interactive media, I was pleased to see that during the debates and again during the elections, Twitterers from both the left and right posted their reactions in common areas. True, not everyone is going to be pleased with what the other side is thinking, but at least we’ll all be thinking about the same things. With more sites that encourage common discourse, maybe we can keep the dingo at bay.

–posted by Karen Blakeman

 Originally posted November 11, 2008 at PolicyByBlog

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