University of Missouri Study: Blogs’ Political Ferocity is National Polarizing Force

A new University of Missouri study finds that the political ferocity of weblogs has become a national polarizing force. Here’s the press release in full:

A University of Missouri study of recent political blogs indicates politics are getting nastier due to digital media, which are segmenting people into polarized interest groups. The researcher recommends a balanced approach to finding information in order to return civility to political discourse, which is at the heart of democracy.

“One side is going to lose in every political discussion,” said Ben Warner, associate professor of communication in the MU College of Arts and Science. “The danger with this open hostility found in digital media toward the other side in politics is that it undermines the legitimacy of the people that we disagree with politically. It’s important to recognize that people who disagree with you aren’t ‘evil’ or ‘trying to destroy America;’ they just have different perspectives.”

While examining political arguments in the digital age, Warner found the rhetoric in Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential primary blogs indicated a dramatic fight between heroes and villains. As bloggers for the site would post comments about their activities, a common theme of “fighting to take back our country” emerged.

“While this isn’t new language to campaigns, it implies that political authority must be taken rather than earned, indicating that the ruling party is an illegitimate power,” Warner said. “When this type of language is adopted by the base, a channel is created for that viciousness to grow.”

As a contrast, Warner also reviewed President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign blogs, in which bloggers often dismissed overly negative comments and asked users to remain respectful.

“The conversation on the Obama blogs matched the respectful tone modeled by the campaign itself,” said Warner. “Senator John McCain wasn’t an ‘evil villain’ but a ‘misguided politician who should be respected for his service to the country.’”

Warner recommends that people use varied sources of information, including mainstream media and sites that feature the opposing view, to form their opinions. While noting that there were still wide sections of both blogs that were well-intentioned and respectful models of civic engagement, Warner notes that blogs could assist in turning “scattered political frustrations” into “passionate mobs.”

“There are times when passionate mobs are precisely what society needs. Yet, we all need to realize our nation is filled with diverse perspectives,” Warner said. “Ideological warfare does little to heal divisions in society, but trust in each other can preserve a healthy democracy.”

The article “The polarizing influence of fragmented media: lessons from Howard Dean,” is published in the Atlantic Journal of Communication, and is co-authored by Ryan Neville-Shepard of Indiana University – Purdue University Columbus.

Another part of this topic is the vanished potential of weblogs. Many original envisioned them to be tools of a sea of citizen journalists. While there are some that do original reporting regularly or occasionally, the bulk are really citizen op-ed pages — except many blog posts would never be run on newspaper op-ed pages since many posts are political rants complete with name calling. Increasingly, many blogs have become overt appendages of political campaigns. As Jerry Seinfeld would say: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” — but the potential of blogs has not been realized and trending doesn’t suggest it ever will.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks…

    Reminds me once again of a neurologist that was commissioned to investigate the vets and agent orange. He said it is the human brain that will be our demise because the expanded frontal higher brain capacity to invent and develop technology far surpasses the primitive and primate portion of the brain that evolves at a much slower rate.

    Jane Goodall for president might be our best choice?

  2. -[Yet, we all need to realize our nation is filled with diverse perspectives]-

    Yes, but many of these “perspectives” are illegitimate!

    Many are being created by the media rather than originating from the people. In many circumstances it is the media telling the people what to think, rather than the people “thinking” and expressing their thoughts and being echoed by the media.

    I see this most dangerously in cable news rather than on blogs.

    Except that those blogs of a certain political opinion or of oriented issue, tend to not tolerate those of a differing opinion that may actually be convincing, even if fact. They have either made up their mind that certain opinion is or is not fact without any common scientific methodology and to disagree with them is bigotry, justifying removal from the forum.

    Believe me, I don’t know how to run a political blog, but I do suspect many could be run better than they are. That is IF the blog’s intended purpose is egalitarian rather than just another venue for personal gain.

  3. I can’t help myself…I have to comment here even though I have forbidden myself from doing so.

    Am I the only one who does not consider this site “moderate”? Am I the only one who sees TMV as a liberal place, for liberals to go, where they can hang out with their buds?

    The poster boy for TMV just posted above me. He brags about his liberal tilt and his unwillingness to really listen to and analyze views to the right of him, and contemplate possibly moderating his viewpoints.

    This is a polarizing blog site because those who are anywhere on the right side of true center don’t stay around long…unless they just want to play the role of pesky gnat.

    I think Joe realizes that his own site is a biased one, because anyone running down the list of daily contributors, both writers and posters, is not going to find a bunch of people who have ever voted for the “conservative” candidate on any given ticket. There just isn’t the balance here that the name implies.

  4. You’re not the only one, and cannot be, because this site is liberal.

    And yes, Allen is the poster boy, the model of moderation on “TMV.”

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