This is a question that has been bugging me for some time. I love the Internet, I make my living from it, and even if I didn’t I couldn’t imagine living without it now. But at the same time, I wonder if on balance, has the Internet has been a good thing for our democracy?
You would think that the free flow of information, including removing the government and corporate gatekeepers to information, would be nothing but good. But instead we suffer from information overload, and there are so many choices of information it is difficult to separate the good information from the lies and propaganda. With so many choices, people seem to mainly view information that reinforces their existing beliefs, leading to further polarization. I suspect that it was no coincidence that the rise in partisanship in Washington was simultaneous with the widespread adoption of the Internet.
This isn’t just true of the Internet. Does anyone believe that cable news networks (and the resulting 24-hour news cycle) provide better information? Before that, did network TV news provide better information than newspapers? Several studies even claim that watching Fox News even makes you less well informed, and yet it is the most popular new source in our country. Is too much information making us stupid?
Even worse, I have no idea what could possibly be done to solve this problem.