Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Invisible Filter

Jason over at Voices of Reason makes some good points about how the internet in general, and blogging in particular, have "democratized democracy", as he puts it. He identifies three areas in particular: the citizen watchdog function, the heightened efficiency of fundraising, and the broadening of participation in the political multilogue.

The first two seem self-evident. The third, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated, since a lot of what goes on behind the scenes of "political blogging" doesn't necessarily wind up onscreen.

Although anyone can click the "publish" button of their blog platform and present their views to the world, the sheer mass of available online opinion functions as an inherent editing function. In other words, traffic on the internet, and especially blog traffic, is directed, much like "Letters to the Editor" are selected. So while the outcome might be democratizing, the process itself is far from democratic.

It takes a lot of effort and some dumb luck to get noticed by a wide reading audience, which, as Jason notes, is concentrated around a relatively small number of high-traffic sites that either horde or distribute their "clicks" as they see fit. I've compared it to trying to get one's piece of confetti noticed at a ticker tape parade.

My point isn't that the editing role played by high-traffic blogs is unfair (it isn't any more fair or unfair than the role played by any editor), but rather that it is largely invisible to the average reader.

My major caveat, then, with regard to the impact of blogs on democracy is that when access to opinion is directed, it can be manipulated. And the explosion of energy that blogs once represented has been to a large degree harnessed. Should the filter ever become stifling (something that has not yet happened), people will have to find or invent new ways to circumvent it.

Because news, by its nature, travels. But opinion needs to work a little bit to get heard.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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