Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker
discusses whether the internet promotes the spread of bizarre rumors by encouraging "group polarization":
People’s tendency to become more extreme after speaking with like-minded others has become known as “group polarization”...
“Views that would ordinarily dissolve, simply because of an absence of social support, can be found in large numbers on the Internet, even if they are understood to be exotic, indefensible, or bizarre in most communities,” Sunstein observes. Racists used to have to leave home to meet up with other racists (or Democrats with other Democrats, or Republicans with Republicans); now they need not even get dressed in order to “chat” with their ideological soul mates.
“It seems plain that the Internet is serving, for many, as a breeding group for extremism, precisely because like-minded people are deliberating with greater ease and frequency with one another,” Sunstein writes. He refers to this process as “cyberpolarization.”
Put the Web’s filtering tools together with cyberpolarization and what you get, by Sunstein’s account, are the perfect conditions for spreading misinformation. Who, on liberal blogs, is going to object to (or even recognize) a few misstatements about Sarah Palin? And who, on conservative blogs, is going to challenge mistaken assertions (or, if you prefer, lies) about President Obama?
The article implies that the internet has led to an increase in group polarization, extremism, and crazy rumors. But is this actually true? I'm not sure. The article describes all the crazy rumors that have circulated online about Obama, but crazy rumors have flourished in every era of history.