07 November 2012

This is your brain on homophily

Dick Morris isn't stupid.  It's just that he gets asked if Governor Romney will win the presidential election, and he says things like this:

We're gonna win by a landslide. It will be the biggest surprise in recent American political history... I base this not on intuition or on smelling the tea leaves. I base it on reading the polls - the exact same polls that say Obama's gonna win.
He's not alone.  Karl Rove, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Barone, and Peggy Noonan headline a list of pundits who predicted something similar using basically the same data. Of course, these are the same people who chat with Morris on television, at conferences and meetings, and at parties. They are his friends, his colleagues, his ideological soulmates.  They are part of his tight-knit community of conservative pundits.

This community is no different than so many others I've described - it's filled with people who customize the news they consume to fit their interests and world view. Even conservative John Ziegler acknowledges this.  It filters out or rationalizes away the information that conflicts with community goals or values, and it reinforces the conclusions they desire. Over time, similar opinions from people you find credible get repeated so many times and opposing viewpoints get filtered out so automatically that perspective is, pardon the pun, skewed.

Photo via Frank Paynter
So of course a prediction of a narrow Obama victory is obviously a Romney landslide. And of course alternate information is inherently "biased" - just ask the "fair and balanced" news source that pulls content verbatim from a conservative "media watchdog" leader and rebrands it.

Of course, thinkers like Conor Friedersdorf are suggesting that more partisan media outlets have an obligation to scale the ideological barriers to information - but as long as the news industry sees what they do in terms of supply and demand, it's very hard to see that happening.

As consumers leverage social media technology more, they are more able to select the information that reflects their interest and world view.  They easily enter communities and can grow more entrenched in them.  What we really need is to encourage more digital exploration of other cultures and viewpoints.  It starts by committing to a more civil discourse.   It won't be easy, but perhaps we can give it another go now that the election is settled.

No comments: