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The Dark Side of "Me Media" 178

Posted by JonKatz
from the -the-Balkanization-of-ideas- dept.
Collaborative filtering and comment programs are all the rage these days on the Net, a symbol of empowerment, choice, freedom, self-policing, even protection. Thanks to automated software, and to addictively-gamelike moderation systems, media are becoming increasingly personalized: "me media." But as usual with things technological, people are sometimes drawn to neat stuff without spending much time mulling the consequences. republic.com, an important new book by Constitutional scholar Cass Sunstein argues that there is such a thing as a citizen -- and that filtering programs may undermine citizenship and a democratic culture. According to Sunstein, software is helping us talk only to ourselves. This will be heresy to some, but he's got a point. (Read more).

Most people online cherish and support the freedom to control their information environment, to evaluate sources of information, to block spam and obnoxious intrusions. Reader moderation (and even higher-order filtering systems) represent the first meaningful efforts to control the epidemic hostility, spamming and chaos that overwhelm public spaces online. This self-policing in media is a radical and powerful idea -- but it isn't that simple. It also permits people to eliminate opposing points of view, promoting a new kind of fragmentation.

Those who moderate comments on Slashdot, Kuro5shin and other community-based weblogs may downgrade content they don't find worthwhile in a genuine effort to express their thoughts as readers and participants -- a freedom no newspaper reader or television viewer has. One person's new freedom is another's' censorship, though. Congress has required, for instance, that schools and libraries who want to take advantage of lucrative e-Rate funding for their networking projects employ content-filtering software. The same basic mechanism (content is chosen before it reaches the viewer), but with very different motivations. As various methods and reasons for content filtering spread, they bring with them some dark clouds.

In republic.com, University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein argues that through its filtering and moderating systems, the Internet may be Balkanizing speech and thought, and thus weakening democracy, by eliminating the public spaces that traditionally offered common ground. Sunstein asserts that the age of mass media is ending, that radically de-centralized and intensely individualistic forms of information are not only emerging but becoming dominant. But he believes that certain elements remain essential for a well-functioning system of free expression, and that filtering and moderation software may endanger them.

People living in democracies, Sunstein maintains, should be exposed to ideas they might not have chosen themselves. Unplanned, spontaneous, unanticipated encounters are central, though they "often involve topics and points of view that people have not sought out and perhaps find quite irritating." They are important, nonetheless, he says, partly because they protect against fragmentation and extremism, a predictable outcome when like-minded people communicate only with one another."

Sunstein also cites the impact of collaborative filtering programs like those used by Amazon and other sites which collect information on past use and preferences, and allow people to pre-select from a menu of subjects and books they are likely to like or agree with. Clearly this is a customer service, but it's also a way of filtering out ideas and subjects people don't want to hear. Browsers in a store are nearly guaranteed to come across unanticipated or new ideas. The users of collaborative filtering systems will see far fewer.

Sunstein believes that citizens should have a range of common experiences. Without them, any heterogeneous society will have a much tougher time addressing social problems. People may even find it hard to understand one another. "Common experiences, emphatically including the common experiences made possible by the media, provide a form of social glue," he notes.

Sunstein's imagined -- but very plausible -- world of innumerable, diverse editions of the "the Daily Me" is the furthest thing from a utopian dream; it will, he claims, create serious problems. Sunstein offers several possibilities for reform. He suggests "must-carry" rules in the form of links imposed on the most popular websites, designed to produce exposure to substantive questions. He even advocates "must-carry" rules, also in the form of links, for even the most highly partisan websites, designed to ensure that viewers learn about opposing views.

These interventions into Net content are provocative, but a bit of a shocker coming from a Constitutional scholar. Should sites really be forced by law to carry view points that are abhorrent to them, to mimic the press's deadly habit of balancing every single point of view with an opposite one, creating eternal arguments and stalemates that turn civic discussions into WWF matches? In a democratic culture, isn't polarization as much a choice as consensus?

Such requirements, he argues, aren't rooted in nostalgia or reactionary love for the past. Nor is Sunstein taking a position for or against technology or its value. He wrote the book, he says, in an effort to explain what makes freedom of expression successful -- a question little considered online, or even in the United States Congress, which routinely enacts censorious, anti-democratic laws in the name of patriotism and morality.

But hardly anyone in high-tech, contemporary America engages in face-to-face, participatory democracy in their town parks and streets. If they do this anywhere, in 2001, they do it online. The Net is the new public space; does that mean it needs those same constitutional protections, and are Netizens obliged to keep at least some of this space open and unfiltered?

Sunstein doesn't fall into the obvious trap of romanticizing the era, blessedly over, when three TV networks controlled much of the news and offered Americans bland, incomplete mirrors of the world. But he has a point when he says that for all their flaws, TV broadcasts had vast audiences and had the quality of a genuinely common experience. One of the central accomplishments of the American Revolution was the crafting a political process that peacefully absorbed different points-of-view. It has worked astonishingly well, longer than almost any previous democratic political system.

In the last 30 years, though, the networks have lost about a third of their audience, or 39 million viewers. The most highly rated show on any current network has fewer viewers than the fifteenth highest-rated show of the 1970's. Sunstein doesn't suggest that all our new choices -- the Net, Web, cable -- are bad. "My only claim is that a common set of frameworks and experiences is valuable for a heterogeneous society, and that a system with limitless options, making for diverse choices, will compromise some important social values. ... if we believe that a set of common experiences promotes active citizenship and mutual self-understanding, we will be concerned by any developments that greatly reduce those experiences."

People who care about the Internet ought to be concerned. The tech nation may be a collection of brilliant, creative, outspoken people, but it defines the notion of being politically disconnected. The legislative system which nominally represents Net users passes laws from the Communications Decency Act to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to the Children's Internet Protection Act that directly impinge upon our freedom of expression. But there is little organized response, or even much awareness.

The truth is that people who increasingly turn to filtering programs (including ready-made portal sites) become accustomed to censoring ideas they think they may not like. But they can't ever really be sure, since they have no idea what they're not seeing, or how the person or ideas they are blocking might have evolved.

Just ask Jeffrey Pollock. When Pollock ran for Congress last year, he posted campaign information and position papers on a campaign web site. Among others things, he declared his support for Federally-mandated use of Net filtering programs to block porn in schools and public libraries. He was amazed to learn that his own site was blocked by CyberPatrol.

If there is a flaw in Sunstein's arguments, it is that the information winnowing he decries has become more and more necessary due to the sheer volume of data beamed at individual users. In a sense, the moderation advocates are correct when they say they are preserving people's freedom to think and make information choices.

The volume of hostility and junk communications coming off the Net and Web is now staggering, itself a threat to a democratic culture. Moderating systems can also identify leaders and spokesmen, and make it easier to find intelligent or responsive comments. They take some power away from the hostile and disruptive. And they have quickly become valued communication tools: "I personally love the moderation and meta moderation system," e-mailed one advocate of this site's tiered approach to moderation, "self-policing while at the same time adding a degree of competition and ego-feeding."

Sunstein offers no meaningful solutions for dealing with flamers, or professional lobbyists who flood people with spam.

His argument also seems to pre-suppose that common spaces won't evolve on the Net without help. But just why not? Wouldn't a democratic model hold that eventually, when enough people want such a space, they will create and participate in it? And if they don't want such a space, isn't that also their choice?

Perhaps these spaces won't be like the old TV networks, but they could conceivably be big and open enough to host the civic functions that streets and parks used to serve. After all, television networks themselves act as a giant filter, as does much of Big Media. They picked a handful of stories -- fires, celebrity gossi$presented them as a picture of the world. They were inadequate and incomplete, and people abandoned them in droves the first chance they got.

"If an individual freely chooses to join a service that moderates or filters some source of information according to criteria that are fully disclosed to the joining individual, even if those criteria are the 'whim of the moderator,' then the viewer has expressed his inalienable right to listen only to what he wants," writes Shawn McMahon (himself a moderator) in an e-mail to me. "Nothing," McMahon adds, "could be more democratic."

He has a strong point. Don't people have the right to choose the information they want?

But that doesn't make Sunstein's questions any less valid, or his book less significant and compelling.


Look for another viewpoint on this book in an upcoming reader-submitted book review.

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republic.com -- Is the Net hurting democracy?

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I agree. In fact i wish there was a way to cap the level of posts you see. I have no desire to read some long winded "+5, informative" karma whore that isn't a real persons thoughts just a reiteration of slashdot collectives view. Seriusly anything above +3 i really don't want to read. I already know what the slashbot hive mind thinks, i don't need to read it everytime a new article gets posted, i'd rather read a real persons ideas.
  • by pod (1103)
    This is definitely a wordy way of saying 'why don't we let people do their own content filtering.'. Well, duh!
  • ...in his book "Earth." Admittedly there wasn't much dedicated to it - one of the characters, Jen Wolling (IIRC) had a program written for her by a hacker that randomized her news input so that a certain percentage of her news would be drawn in from random sources, as opposed to her preselected resources.

    Said hacker was in jail at the time for doing this for a bunch of other people, without their consent!
  • The votes are in:

    posts/topic

    36/baseball
    136/mouse
    164/unsearchable
    120/p-to-p
    101/GSLV
    203/ads
    195/broadband
    225/Boucher
    217/Katz
    130/CVS
    161/laptops
    179/lcd's
    324/OS/390
    187/10Qbits

    Nope.

    Katz don't draw 'em out of the woodwork like he used to.

    Ranking *after* a goddam politician, and languishing in third overall.

    Probably fall back to fourth after baseball gets some more hits...

    t_t_b
    --
    I think not; therefore I ain't®

  • The point of the book, if I understand right, was not that filtering (moderation, portals, etc.) was a "Bad Thing" in itself, but that there are side-effects that we need to consider. It's easy to say, "Oh, just turn filtering off if you don't want it!," but how many of us really want to (or can afford the time to) give up the convenience of doing that? The end result, for better or worse, is that we shut ourselves off from many other voices out there. We tell ourselves that we are just weeding out the flamers and SPAM, but in reality it's not that simple.

    That being said, I'm not sure the present situation is any different from what existed in the past. Clearly, depending on the Old Media led to a carefully filtered view of the world -- one which the majority of us had very little control over. What that view bought us, at least in the opinion of the author, was a base level of common experience on which we could build communication. However, that filter was so skiewed toward one dominant view of the world or another, that I seriously doubt it was of real value.

    Bottom Line: In the end, we must filter the information that comes at us. The physical structure of our brains is built around filtering information. In fact, the ability to filter and extract meaning from the huge amount of stimuli that hits us every second of every day is one thing that sepparates us from the machines we build around us. Our brains can't deal with it all, so we pick and choose. It's not a question of "if" we filter, but "how".

    --

  • If there is a flaw in Sunstein's arguments, it is that the information winnowing he decries has become more and more necessary due to the sheer volume of data beamed at individual users.

    Oh, that doesn't even begin to cover the huge holes in Sunstein's arguments

    Admittedly, I haven't read Mr. Sunstein's book myself, but this is the second review that I have read, and they are consistent in their statements of Mr. Sunstein's views, I will assume they are both correct

    For a much more logical, intelligent (although peripheral) review of Sunstein, see this George Will column. [washingtonpost.com]

    It amazes me how someone claiming to be a constitutional scholar interprets the simple mandate "Congress shall make now law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ... " to do exactly the opposite.

    Will Catholic web sites be forced to show Satanic messages? Will Gay/lesbian web sites be forced to show Ku Klux Klan viewpoints? What sane person wants give the federal government this power?

  • Thanks Beboxer, beautiful post. I am fed up with all the negativity surrounding the comments on a Jon Katz post. It really sickens me. It's amazing how poorly Slashdot readers are able to discuss some of the idea presented.

    ~Squiggle
  • So, once again, some moron thinks that the government should mandate what can and can't be on the internet. Sounds great. Slashdot-style moderation systems work only because there's an option to browse at -1 for those who don't want to be told what they can and can't see. As soon as [insert governing/controlling body here] takes that control away from the users of the information service, a large portion of that information service's users go elsewhere. That would be a terrible thing to do to the internet.

    Now, if we could just find a way to run the stupid people away instead... :)
  • First off, how can anybody mod up a post which has a sentence ending with "of this there can be no argument."?? Please tell me that you're using your own accounts to mod yourself up.

    The precise moderation mechanism used here might be a first, but the concept isn't.

    Moderation is no more a right-wing thing than political correctness is. And a right-wing attitude would be to hold people responsible for their actions, so I'm not sure how you come up with the opposite.

    What would go a long way toward moderation here would be to get rid of the "Overrated" category, maybe replacing it with more specific negative mods (like "Factually wrong"). "Overrated" has basically become, "Well, you presented your argument in a perfectly reasonable manner, but I don't like your opinion. Zap." Seeing stuff at 2 or 1 get moderated down for being "Overrated" is just cowardice.

    Anyway, you've gotta be having a good laugh at the people who modded you up, because there's no way in Hell that you wrote that in any sincerity.


    Cheers,

  • It could have been a troll, who knows. Like I mentioned, the message is the same whether it is a troll or not. There are plenty of people, I'm sure, who share the belief that moderation is dangerously close to censorship. And it is up to us to silence those people. Just kidding.

    --
  • I think it's pretty clear that a large portion of /. readers would disagree with your comment. Doesn't the fact that this comment was modded up show that opposing viewpoints can make it here? No system's perfect, of course, and the /. system does tend to encourage people to go along with the crowd.. does this mean moderation systems in general should not be used?

    Personally I disagree with your comment, but I would still mod it up. Sure, it could be a troll - but does this change your message? Should the poster's intent, as opposed to the actual content, matter? I will also respond to your arguments.

    Your comment is flawed from top to bottom by the assumption that all media is, or will be controlled by corporate interests. It is true that corporations control a great deal of our media today, never mind in 20 years. This control does influence our culture more than any other factor. But did /. start out commercially? You seem to be assuming that no other moderated forums will ever pop up after /. and k5.

    When enough people are fed up with corporate influence of one site, a new one will be created. Unless free speech on the Internet is stifled (I guess this could happen, though) there will always be a place to speak your mind and hear others' views without being subjected to countless trolls and goatse.cx links.

    I am assuming that since you disagree with moderation, you browse at -1 and hide the scores on comments. As of this post, your comment is at 4. Like I said, while I disagree with your views I would never mod your comment down. Remember that moderation is a work in progress and is in its infancy. As long as the goal is to promote civil discussion without silencing anyone's viewpoints, moderation systems are really the only good solution.

    At the bottom of any Yahoo! news story, you can "discuss" the story with your fellow netizens. Please visit a story there, preferably on a controversial or incendiary topic, and see what people are "discussing" there. You will find name-calling, racism, and downright ugliness in EVERY discussion you look at there. This, folks, is what we would have if not for moderation.

    --

  • In 20 years time it will be the geeks here that created the moderation system moaning about it in YRO articles. This is, yet again in the geek community, hypocrisy.
    You seem to think there's an ideal solution; one that will please - if not everybody - then at least the 'right-thinking' people.
    You've given a compelling argument for kicking off abusers; the argument against it is the oldest argument in free speech debates, and still the most potent: who decides which posts are trolls? I'd be willing to accept the will of the good Commander, but that's here. Twenty years hence, will I be as willing to accept the word of VA Microsoft, as they eject all posts that complain about MS Linux being a monopoly?

    Moderation should not be used. It shouold be a free for all, with the irresponsible forced to face up to what they do.
    Again, who decides what's irresponsible? If you're willing to accept one man's[0] decisions on who is responsible, you're courting disaster.

    [0]You know what I mean.
  • Pay attention. "The same goes for ideas...the pre-digested pap can be replaced by discussion, collaboration, and exploration." quoth my original post.
  • If your opinion is not like mine you are morally defective anyway.

    So what was your point, Katz?

  • Actually, this is one of the few of his stories I appreciated.

    I agree with you that choosing the types of stories I want to see, etc. But, I've intentially chosen wide so I would be exposed to more than an extreemly narrow range of topics.

    It is the synergy of otherwise unrelated news and information which can bring new ideas. How many people do you think fail to see this and instead severly restrict the type of news (here, or elsewhere) that they are exposed to?

    On the other hand, if I never see another sports score I'm sure I'll survive...

  • I recall reading a study on this very topic, which was done a while ago by I think one of the major online news sources - WashPost or NYTimes or somebody, but I forget precisely who.

    Their research showed that people who get their news online frequent *more*, not fewer, sources of news than their offline counterparts, and are exposed to a broader range of topics as a result. Furthermore, nearly everyone checks one or two "general news" sites like NYTimes or CNN, and sees all of the "front page" headlines there. The most common scenario is someone who checks a major site like CNN regularly plus a variety of sites on more specialized topics. Furthermore, the net allows much greater coverage of those specialized topics than would be possible in a print media. So the long and the short of it is, no, there is statistical evidence out there that people don't put blinders on their eyes and only read narrow slices of the news; the vast majority of people in practice chose to combine the narrow and the broad.

    And I dare say the average person who gets their news online is better informed than the people who only watch the 6 o'clock news! TV news is all sound bites and no substance; text on the net has more details, more bite to it.

    I really wish I could remember the name/source of this study. Anyone help me out here?

    - Marshall (Reads WashingtonPost, spacedaily.com, slashdot, bottomquark, and fifteen different AP newsfeeds from ClariNet. Yes I'm a news junkie. ;-)

  • > Moderation has been used for years on alt.sysadmin.recovery. I pity the fool that does a "all your base are belong to us" over there. :)

    Not even an article moderation approval header referring to Cats? Damn, you guys do play hardball! ;-)

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression that punishment (holding someone accountable for their actions...) was a conservative/right-wing ideal, whereas implementing systems to work around the "badness" (ignoring it, giving people freedom from it) was a liberal/left-wing ideal. Anyone else?
  • But it's not the government's prerogative to force carriers to link to opposition (Should, say, B'nai Brith be forced to link to Stormfront? Should FDR's fireside chats have been followed up by the latest from Tokyo Rose?), nor to require that people read them.

    And who decides admittance to the club? Should every fringe philosophy automatically be entitled to the same consideration? If someone were to post the meanderings of toddlers from a classroom, should they carry the same weight? I doubt it...

    People have a heavy dose of confirmation bias. That's normal. But the proper place to fight that is probably in the schools, where critical thinking skills can be critically assessed.
  • I doubt that CNN often provides as detailed coverage as, say, _The Economist_ or other *good* magazines, many of which have online sites (be they pay or otherwise).
  • Well, they could present JUST the relevant facts -- for instance, on a Constitutionality issue, references to what clauses are purported to apply and why. On many issues, studies and raw data can, and probably should, be cited. And so forth.

    And remember that there are usually many different points of view rather than only strict opposites. The bimodal view, such as that often presented by pro/con editorials, often ignores intriguing ideas.
  • True enough. It seems to be traditional now on some campuses for leftists to steal and trash/burn school newspaper runs in order to implement content-based censorship...
  • Neither you nor anybody else has the absolute right to dictate another's thoughts, or lack thereof. You're generally not obligated to agree or even listen to them, however, since that'd be infringing on your thoughts and privacy.

    Besides...

    Do you have an opinion about, say, WWII? Have you read _Mein Kampf_, _The Will to Power_ , _Also Sprach Zarathrusta_, and other primary sources? Can you trace the development of the Wilson Doctrine, it's failure at Versailles, the weakness of the League of Nations, the structural weaknesses of the Weimar Republic, and so forth? Have you studied how the Germans Wehrmacht learned from the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, which in turn can be traced at least in part to Clausewitzian theory? Do you recall details about the rivalry between the SA brownshirts, the Schutzstaffel, and the various internal power struggles even within the National Socialist party? Have you ever seen an SS army organizational chart?

    How much information do you believe is required?

  • For example I don't want to talk to the people who are trying to tell me because I am an observant Jew I am going to go to hell for not sharing their faith. When they come to my door I don't open it when they send me email I delete it. As far as I am concerned there are some view points which I do not want hear. (Missionaries, hate, holocost revionism etc) I admit that they have rights too, but not the right to harras me.

    I don't see why I should have to have this stuff shoved in my face.

    (Want to bet someone is going to accuse me of censorship here?)
  • This is a big issue in a lot of ways. For example a TV or radio show only has a fixed amount of screen time per day, and a newspaper only a set number of collumn inches to use in any given day. How to pick what leads, what comes next and what gets cut. There are many issues that are very important to one community but not to another. For example use of public land for ranching is probably very important in places like montana, here in New Hampshire we probably don't care. Different groups have different issues which will touch their lives.
  • European release CDs? Small market? Man, I wish I had 0.5% of that small market...

  • However, I would contest that even with every post visible, you would choose not to read most of the things abhorrent to you - except if you are a zealot looking for a jihad, in which case reading them isn't likely to help you much because it just bounces off.
  • The problem with interactive sites, moderated or not, (and more generically, with the entire web and the cause of so much dross in web searches,) is that people can submit anything without regard to its organization and retrieval.

    It not a question of censorship, its a question of "What the [expletive deleted] are you talking about? What was the INTENT of your comment?"

    We desperately need a generic, interactive "content creator" which will allow us to add classification tags to that any item can be identified as to provenance (who, when, where,) subject taxonomy(ies since something can be about many things,) information content. Where can we find some tags? Try starting with the Dewey Decimal system... Try something...

    So far we can sort of infer the first (if you feel like poring through message headers,)and fall on our sword on the third (words rarely mean what they say, connotation is far richer than denotation and search engines have to rely only on the latter,) and so far, the most useful feature of any library, the reference system used to catalog the content, is entirely absent from the Web and the 'Net.

    This means that most of the time, we end up wading through irrelevancies.

    Is a dictionary unjust? Only when you can't find the content you're looking for, regardless of because its just not there or you're forced to read the entire thing to find a single page.

    We have got to get better organized. Its not censorship, its common sense.
  • Think about where you get your information from in a given day. Every single bit of it that you didn't experience first hand is filtered. Even what you experience first hand is filtered through your subjective mind, instilling impressions of what happened that may not match reality.

    If you get the news from NPR instead of ABC, you get a different perspective. How is the Internet making this any different? The only difference I see is that you get a number of sites that specialize in certain kinds of information within certain types of communities (slashdot for geeks, etc). Is it really somehow better to have your news filtered by some faceless editor in a news corporation, or have it filtered by like-minded community members.

    I mean, when I go through my day, the vast majority of the real news I get about the world comes from NPR. I get my geek news from Slashdot and news.com. I go to other sites to discuss what I've read and I share my ideas. I know the type of information that I get and the overall quality of it for each information source. I intentionally seek out news from many sources so that I can get as accurate a perspective on the world as possible. I'm aware of how each outlet filters their news and I take that into account. When I attach validity to the information. Slashdot is notorious for overreacting on stories so I take any news from here of somebody's rights being trampled with a huge grain of salt.

    People who wish to remain oblivious to what's going on in the world have been able to do that for a long time without the Internet. Look at the gated communities in the distant suburbs. Do you think these people keep in close touch with the reality of poverty in the inner city? The Internet isn't some huge new threat, it's just another aspect of the same problem that's always been there.

    ---

  • Personally I see nothing inherently wrong with the fragmenting of culture. Sure the internet culture leads people to have less and less in common with each other, but also with the broadening of the internet demographics, a wider array of participants are able to share a greater portion of their cultures. i.e. I have less in common someone in the US not of my demographic, but I have more in common with someone in India.
    The more information that is available, the greater innovation can occur. Natural scientist had this problem in the 17th and 18th century which is why they founded scientific societies. They then would spread new articles around to each other and then have meetings to discuss the meaning of the article. Thus more people could get exposure to an issue withouot actually having to become an expert in it.

    What we have now with the cultural fragmentation is an increase in subdisciplines oriented on exploring differing classes of interactions, with the more advantageous gradually replacing the less advantageous. The increase in fragmentation means that society is more able to adapt to rapidly changing situations, as the dominant culture might not have the infrastructure to handle a massive disruption, but some splintered subculture would more readily embrace the changing situation, and replace the dominant culture.
  • . . .does not translate into a requirement for anyone else to listen.

    Moderation, while not perfect, is a useable technology for making sense out of chaos, whether it be here on /., on USENET, or on another medium.

    Failures of moderation make a given medium less and less useful over time. Lack of moderation at all allows takeovers and spam. I've seen that numerous times over the years: the "Meowers" were one fairly well known example that spanned numerous groups.

    Moderation is not anti-democratic, instead it is the only way **I** know of to prevent the so-called "Tragedy of the Commons" online. . .

  • Do you have an opinion about, say, WWII? Have you read _Mein Kampf_, _The Will to Power_ , _Also Sprach Zarathrusta_, and other primary sources?

    Actually, if you believe that Nietzsche was anti-semitic, or in favor of those things that the Nazis believed, in general, you've been listening to the wrong secondary sources. I'd dispute that anyone can be a primary source of information on a war who died decades before that war was fought.

  • See the story about the poor gay guy killed in Wyoming get national coverage with nearly 3100 stories, yet when a gay couple does the same thing (and worse) to a teenage boy in Arkansas there are less than 50 stories.

    Perhaps I'm too "leftist" to look at this without bias, but I think this example doesn't quite belong in your argument.

    The death of Matthew Shepard [mattshepard.org] made news because it mirrored something terrible and dark about the American consciousness. America in general is uncomfortable with homosexuality. Many men in America, when face to face with a homosexual, feel uncomfortable. Why do you think "fag" is such an insult? How many times have you heard an American man say "Get back in the closet" or "man I don't want to see that"?

    So you take that, and you take it beyond vague discomfort and you turn it into active hate. You go beyond a snide remark and into a terrible crime. The result ... something that captivates the nation. Add to it the religious right with their signs "Matthew Shepard is in hell" ... come on, that's news by any definition. Of course you're going to have a ton of stories about this. Just like you're going to have tons of stories about abortion clinic bombings, school shootings, and Clinton's office blow-jobs.

    As for a gay couple torturing and killing a boy in Arkansas ... yes, it's a terrible thing. But you can't pretend it's the same kind of news the death of Matthew Spepard was. It's terrible that kids get killed, regardless of who commits the crime. But there's nothing gripping, in terms of the national consciousness, about one person's death. Jon Benet ... people wanted to hear about. The mystery, the scandal.... But when we know who did it, we know what they did ... well, it's just not the same.

    It would be great if violence was so scarce that any violent crimes were given the same attention in the media as Matt Shepard's death. But that's not the world we live in. That's the cold truth of it.

  • >People living in democracies, Sunstein
    >maintains, should be exposed to ideas they might
    >not have chosen themselves. Unplanned,
    >spontaneous, unanticipated encounters are

    I hate to say it, but if want to eliminate the tunnel vision of people's views, you should start at the universities, not the Internet.

    We are seeing an increase in the trend of people being allowed to suppress Free Speech because of such abstract and subjective (and whiny) reasons as "taking offense" or "hurting my feelings" or "intellectual harassment".

    This is where the true danger lies.

    What has happened in this country is that many liberals blame the conservatives for being close-minded and intolerant (and many are), while being blind to their own close-mindedness and intolerance.

    The problem is "Diversity" is a code word for supporting the minority and attacking or suppressing the majority (particular when morality is concerned). "Diversity" should mean treating all views and opinions based on logical merit, but we all know of public figures (*cough*Jesse Jackson*cough) who cry racism (or some appropriate other -ism) in response to someone's heinous unAmerican crime of disagreeing with them. I'd like to see a little more judgement of people on the content of their character, and their ideas on the content and logic of their words, but that would mean having to be honest, hard-working and most of all, not a Victim.

    There is no doubt that /. is, in many ways, its own insular little world (ask someone on the street about Open Source or "All Your Base" or DeCSS and you will most likely get a blank stare), but the real problem is the lack of open discourse and tolerance for divergent opinions in the centers of higher learning (or more accurately, Political Correctness Indoctrination Camps) that are generating the current and next generation of industry, cultural and government leaders.

  • And what is the worst is that school administrators and/or professors are defending the action of these pissant vandals. If the commies ever took over, they'd know where to find good Party members...
  • How do you propose I manage the information that comes to me, then? I can't read all of it. I could ignore the internet entirely, as half of Americans and most of the world do, and get all my information through people I meet IRL and from the "corporatized" TV & radio networks. Or I can filter it in some way.

    Filtering can be done automatically based on rules, like spam filters; it can be centrally mandated; or I can choose a group of people who I trust (in aggregate) to make the same kinds of decisions I would make. I choose the last.

    I hear plenty of opinions here on slashdot that I disagree with. Gun control, parenting, Microsoft: all are divisive issues with informative and insightful people on both sides.

    Jon, if collaborative filtering really meant you only saw positions you agreed with, how did you ever find out that people were pissed at you stealing their Hellmouth posts?

    --
  • To take another example, a website under Sunstein's rules, might expose people to "both" sides of the abortion debate by presenting an article with the extreme pro-life position, and one with the extreme pro-choice position. Extremists on both sides of this issue claim that there can be no compromise--depsite the fact that the vast, but nonvocal majority of Americans seem to want a compromise, allowing abortion early in the pregnancy but not allowing partial-birth abortions. Is this really a good way to expose people to differing viewpoints?

    Realistically, the debate would be rigged by having the side the government doesn't like represented by the most offensive extremists available.

    If Sunstein's proposal had somehow been enacted and not laughed out of court, conservative appointees could select a link to Peter Singer's defense of infanticide as the token "pro-choice" link. When liberals come to power, the "pro-life" side would be represented by the Rev. Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps.
    /.

  • > With "Me Media" I can point a microscope at one story, and delve far beneath the surface. In doing so I've aquired an understanding about a particular topic, not just been exposed to a dozen one-liners that will all be forgotten the next day.

    Amen. And it frees up time.

    My mental killfile: All reality TV. Anything to do with Hollywood - who's fucking whom, who's making what movie, who's wearing what at the awards. 90% of sports broadcasts. 100% of the weather report, 75% of the time. Commercials. Routine (i.e. current levels of) fighting in the Middle East and the Balkans. School shootings. Mainstream (i.e. network news, not CNBC, which rules!) business news coverage.

    Out of a typical 30 minute nightly newscast, that leaves two or three minutes of actual content. Basically, I used TV news last week to see pictures of space station chunks falling into the Pacific.

    I get the news I care about (New CPUs, new space probes, daily reports from current space probes, technological advances, biotech, business) from the 'net.

    I then use specialized news broadcasts (CNBC, PBS' Nightly Business Report) to "catch" any business news I missed, and other specialized news broadcasts (PBS' McNeil-Lehrer) to get caught up on issues I haven't been following closely (e.g. who's blowin' up whom in some brushfire war that the media have forgotten about).

    I watch the same minutes of TV every day, but the S/N ratio is improved by a 10:1 margin.

  • > I make a point of switching back-and-forth between the most liberal radio station in my area and the most conservative,

    Ditto. I don't do it with radio, I do it with web sites - reading both salon.com and enterstageright.com.

    What I like about doing it on the web is that I know I'm getting biased coverage - neither site pretends to be objective. With MSNBCBSABCNN, it's a joke. Plus, I can read more spin in 10 minutes on both sites than all the networks together could give me in an hour. (Did you ever notice that you can make just as much sense out of the evening news by ignoring the screen and just listening to the words? Now - do you really read that slowly? Plain text is the fastest way I know to cram data into my brain ;-)

  • by tentac1e (62936)
    Most people would be surprised by how many cases that get brought before the Supreme Court in regards to our personal liberties ultimately boil down to one issue: who pays for it?

    These free forums of Internet Access are payed for by taxpayer dollars. Why should a conservative husband and wife with a 486 have a large chunk of their paycheck taken from them, so a transexual sado-masochist can read about the latest wares on a P4?

    Of course, the problem at this point becomes where we draw the line as to what is educational and what is a waste of money. The simple solution, of course, is nothing. Human beings were not born obligated to surf the Internet, and we have no obligation to pay for anyone to do so. If anyone feels that Internet Access is an obligation, they should go establish a charitable organization to provide it, rather than forcefully take out money from us.

    On a related note: Why is there all this outrage on the Slashdot community when someone mentions anything that vaguely sound like "censorship," when the most obvious, dictionary definition case of censorship is under way in the US, known as "Campaign Finance Reform." The US Supreme Court has already ruled that money is free speech, and yet congress is ready to hold the equivolent of an illegal constitutional convention, to limit the ammount of money an individual can spend to say how much they like or dislike a candidate. As a result of CFR, there will be, by its very design, less information reaching the public.

    When a library restricts the flow of information, it's an outrage, but when our government does it, it's worthy of praise?

  • Here on Slashdot we have developed, as a community, and incredibally powerful tool

    I respectfully disagree. Say what you want about /. moderation, but it was not developed "as a community". It was was developed by Hemos & Taco, and the rest of the team [slashcode.org]. The rest of ./ may have collectively bitched about it, and provided a live test facility, but that's a far stretch from "developing" something.

    Bender is an amazing piece of software. Instead of another unappreciative rant, let's show some respect for the sheer volume and popularity of /. and the innovators who made it happen.

    /asskiss>
  • "I doubt that CNN often provides as detailed coverage as, say, _The Economist_ or other *good* magazines, many of which have online sites (be they pay or otherwise)."

    That's my point. "The Economist" is a mainstream news outlet and you get better information from such sites than you will from a "me media" site.

    It all comes down to simple logistics and resources. No alternative site as of yet can offer the same level of detail and depth that a dedicated, mainstream news outlet can. Such organizations have the money, resources, and contacts to investigate stories. They can assign a guy full time to travel around the world and follow up on things. "Me media" sites do little more than restate or aggregate this information. I know of no site where I can get better information than what I get from the conventional outlets. Most of the alternative sites do nothing more than link back to the main sites anyway. The only thing they offer is unfiltered, unqualified opinion.

    -Vercingetorix

  • "With "Me Media" I can point a microscope at one story, and delve far beneath the surface."

    Is that really true though? Is it actually possible to look at an inssue in such microscopic depth on the internet? Let's say there is a story posted on CNN about Joe Politician doing something naughty. Where can I go to get more detailed, accurate information that is better than what the major news outlets publish? It strikes me that the vast majority of so-called "me media" sites are nothing more than collections of unverified, unadulterated personal opinion. Take Slashdot for example. The stories posted here are almost invariably links to other, more mainstream news articles. The comments are usually nothing more than personal opinion and commentary. They may let me know how you and others "feel" about something, but they usually offer little in the way of substantially new information pertaining directly to the story in question. When you get right down to it, "me media" offers little more than a whole lot of "me too" comments from the public. There aren't a lot of places that accurately cover news stories in more depth than CNN or MSNBC or the AP, since most of the alternative sites simply repeat what the major sites publish. In that sense I think the original article overstates the problem. I believe the internet actually does provide a shared expereince in that regardless of where you hear about something, you're usually reading the same basic set of facts about an issue as everyone else.

    The real power in the internet is in the establishment of focused portal sites that aggregate information about specific subjects so people can get more breadth (not depth) to their informaiton consumption. If I am interested in some particular issue, I can frequent sites that focus on that issue and collect a large number of references to many articles that help me get a better overall picture of the issue. Such sites usually don't offer any new or deeper information, but they do make it easy to access what is already out there so that I am able to better filter the information by checking one source against another.

    -Vercingetorix

  • Jon Katz writes:
    Congress has required, for instance, that schools and libraries who want to take advantage of lucrative e-Rate funding for their networking projects employ content-filtering software.
    The same basic mechanism (content is chosen before it reaches the viewer), but with very different motivations. [emphasis added]
    I think there's a reasoning error here, caused by the problematic usage of the word filtering to mean both censorware and what I'd call personalization. There aren't the "same basic mechanism". They are fundamentally different mechanisms, because they are trying to solve different problems. I don't think that I will lose my innocence, that I will be scarred for life, that civilization will be corrupted ... if I see an article by Jon Katz when I don't want to. Finding information which one wants (personalization) involves dramatically different trade-offs than being prevented by an authority from reading information that the authority thinks is mentally harmful (censorware). It's in fact a different mechanism, with only superficial similarity.

    To see this, note that NONE of the personalization programs require banning anonymizers [sethf.com] so that you can't escape the control of the program.

  • The "Daily Me" is something I've been working towards for twenty years, starting with NewsPeek in 1979. It will give people the right and capability to see only one side of things - so that they can live in a world of their bias if they so choose - and I believe they have that right. But these "tunnel vision" people - who's minds are not open - will die out and be replaced by a new breed that searches for Truth.

    One of the great uses of a truely personalized system is the ease with which one can find quality opposing viewpoints. If today I wonder how anyone could believe Bush "has a mandate from the people," I have to piece it together myself. But with secure, anonymized and decentralized personalization, I can easily find the top-rated opposing viewpoints so that I can better understand those I oppose, for every in every war it's important to "know your enemy."

    Finally, my "Me" would contain 85% stuff of direct interest, by authors and in a style I appreciate, and %15 would be from my chosen "serendipity" authors who point me to headlines I might not otherwise see, sort of like Slashdot.

    --

  • But this isn't an ideal world. Personally true to all the articles that Jon writes he again fails to really have much of a point. However I'm getting a sort of theme. Jon seems to believe that everyone should tolerate everyone else's opinion all the time. Its nice in theory but we are human and in practice boils down to not having an opinion on anything for fear of stepping on peoples toes. By that definition the very things that Jon Katz advocates in the name of "democracy" would perpetuate into "group think" and eventually censorship, communism, whatever, because these ideas breed in the "group think" tank. Jon in a perfect world it would work but in ours no political system is 100% perfect because I don't think the same way you do and Taco thinks differently and everyone else in the world. We're individuals. Some of us don't like censorship, I believe that some censorship is nessisary to protect the rights of other people. (I know that opens a can of worms). The point is this isn't a perfect world, and whining about things isn't going to change it. If you don't like the way things are then VOTE and encourage others to do the same, the prevailing mindset will be the one chosen.

    "One World, one Web, one Program" - Microsoft promotional ad

  • Despite the disclaimer that there is no nostalgia for TV networks controlling everything (which would be premature) the implicit basis of all this is that we should all be exposed to the same media. The news I like to read (like slashdot, Scientific American, 21C, etc)has always been, and will always be, suppressed in this 'common sources' as being beyond the attention span of 'common americans'. The idea that 'me media' won't expose people to anything outside thier balliwic, but say CBS will is absurd. To the contrary, I find stuff on line that suprises me regularly, and in the 30 yrs I've been on this planet, a major network has not suprised me EVEN ONCE. Anyone who thinks deeply enough about the implications of what I just said will probably want to have every university that gave this guy a passing grade, let alone hired him, stripped of their accreditations.
  • Reader moderation ... represent the first meaningful efforts to control the epidemic hostility, spamming and chaos that overwhelm public spaces online.

    You're kidding, right? Either that, or you've never been an ass on a bulletin board with a strong sysop.

    A good sysop was not just a "meaningful effort" to control hostility and chaos, they were damn effective ones, too.

  • > Is it actually possible to look at an inssue in
    > such microscopic depth on the internet? Let's
    > say there is a story posted on CNN about Joe
    > Politician doing something naughty. Where can I
    > go to get more detailed, accurate information
    > that is better than what the major news outlets publish?

    Extremely good point. When I posted the parent message I was thinking more of the type of things that I'm interested in. For instance I'll read on spaceflightnow.com about a new telescope Nasa is thinking of building. That got me interested, and after reading their article, I then started trawling the web looking for more information, eventually ending up with what amounted to blueprints for said telescope. I now have a detailed understanding of the subject.

    I'll grant that this level of microscopic examination doesn't always work, especially for topics like your example of sleasy politicians. But I'm a nuts and bolts type of guy, and politicians (sleasy or otherwise) just don't interest me. Thus, "me-media" works for me.
    --

  • "If an individual freely chooses to join a service that moderates ... then the viewer has expressed his inalienable right to listen only to what he wants,"

    "Nothing," McMahon adds, "could be more democratic."

    No the viewer expressed to listen to a mostly common opinion. A better way for a really democratic moderation system would be one that moderates on bases of your previous opinions and others who sort of share your opinion. Like a "me moderated" version of /.
  • Moderation should not be used. It shouold be a free for all, with the irresponsible forced to face up to what they do. Its that simple.

    You post this on a moderated web site. The value of the site is measured in 'mind-share' (or maybe time-share) of the users it has. You are contributing to this... putting your 'content vote' into Slashdot.

    There is no shortage of unmoderated forums. Go post to Usenet, and watch your thread be ignored amidst a sea of non-sequitors, me-toos, flames, and spam.

  • Sure, it does happen, but it's only the minority of cases. And for every bad moderator, there's several good ones who'll mod you back up. The /. mod guidelines are that you mod up more than down, so that signal-to-noise is improved by selectively boosting rather than attenuating.

    Grab.
  • Sunstein's fear has some basis, I guess. But in fact I think people are being driven away from traditional media by the same phenomena. Most trad. media are written by, of, and for -- and increasingly *about* -- a narrow class of traditional journalists who share the same worldview, political opinions, lifestyle, etc. It's already the "Them Media." For many people, that's reason enough to tune them out. If mass media were more inclusive, and less solipsistic and biased, this would be less of a problem.
  • In general, most users of "personalized" websites receive an experience no more "personal" than a list of headlines on some topics that they've previously identified as interests. And that's only if they bother to customize the options on that site, which most people don't.

    Regardless of how I've configured my Slashboxes, I still have no idea exactly what headlines or what viewpoints are going to show up when I log on to check the news every day, but I know that in general, they will pertain to the industry I work in, the people I associate with, and part of the community I participate in.

    How does this really compare with information distribution of days gone by? In the late 18th century, while the United States was in it's infancy, there was no internet to spread customized news to individuals, but does that mean individuals got all the news and all the viewpoints in their Sunday newspaper?

    No, much like Slashdot volunteer moderators do today, the editorial staff of the local newspaper (which in most cases only had a distribution to the local community) filtered through the news they received and printed on topics which were relevent to the industries, peoples and communities in their local distribution area. People may not have had an exact forecast of what they were reading, but certainly could expect that the local paper would print news that affected them.

    I think that if the rural farmers in South Carolina were able to find some common ground with the Entrepeneurial class in New York on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, despite the balkanized nature of the press in those days, there is little danger that everyone in a globally interconnected network are going to totally lose touch with one another.
  • The old saw goes "everyone is entitled to his opinion." But I would argue that I am entitled to my opinon only if that opinion is informed. By choosing to listen only to the news I agree with, I am abdicating my responsibility to inform myself. Therefore I am not entititled to my opinion.
    Even the fuzziest thinking, most close-minded, Rush-Limbaugh-listening person in the world is entitled to have, and speak, his opinion. He has no responsibility to inform himself, even if in your opinion is that he does! He is even entitled to hold opinions that are just wrong (which he will have if he happens to disagree with me ;-).

    Of course, no one is obligated to pay the least attention to opinions that are ill-reasoned or ill-informed. I hear there are some cool moderating systems that actually try to filter out some of those...

  • Sunstein offers several possibilities for reform. He suggests "must-carry" rules in the form of links imposed on the most popular websites, designed to produce exposure to substantive questions. He even advocates "must-carry" rules, also in the form of links, for even the most highly partisan websites, designed to ensure that viewers learn about opposing views.
    Who moderates the moderators? On slashdot, it is myself and lots of other metamoderators, and readers who sometimes or always read at -1.

    In Sunstein's world, whoever chooses those, oh so fortunate, sites that get designated "must carry," is the moderator. I see no mention of how that moderator is kept in check.

    One has the absolute moral right to speak his opinion. Everyone else has the absolute right to ignore him. Moderation systems like Slashdot's are an excellent tool to exercise the latter right.

  • Personally I have a number of sites in my bookmarks which are frequented by people whose opinions I normally radically disagree with.

    I visit those sites to try to understand how they think, how they justify themselves, and to see if I'm missing anything in my way of thinking.

    I think this is a very healthy pastime, if you can resist the urge to flame everything you read !!

  • People have a tendency to create subcultures, which act to reinforce their prejudices, and leave them unchallenged. But there is an upside. The same conditions incubate ideas that might otherwise never arise, just as small, isolated populations of animal species are used in husbandry to develop useful (and unuseful) novel features.

    Citizenship is not global. One may be a good citizen of a free association tribe without being a good citizen of a nation-state. The free associations have moral superiority to the obsolete nation-states, which in turn have moral superiority over that most coercive of all regimes, the inescapable fascism of the globe.

    The primary potential detriment of social insularity is to the individual, not the globe. In the largest sphere, smaller associations balance each other's diverse impulses -- parochial extremisms tend to vanish as the sphere expands. The failure of the individual to learn from others is not similarly ameliorated. However, the greater diversity of culture which arises in a system of unforced associations allows the *motivated* individual to benefit the more from disparate perspectives. As Jesus said: To he who has, more will be given; from he who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

  • One thing's for sure, we have more ways than ever of tuning out of unpleasantness. However, I'm not so sure the real issue is about moderation or customizable portals. I think people have historically made active choices in the media they consume. Newspapers and magazines are good examples of this. Network TV, I think, has been anomaly in the forty or so years it's been around in any meaningful way. The Net puts us back to the day where we mostly got our information from a diverse set of print publications. As for moderation, this system is not so different from a panel discussion. The moderation system can be a way of achieving consensus in a particular community. In short these new information spaces are what we make of them.

  • The various ideas and concepts behind collaborative media are discussed on a mailing list called peer-to-peer journalism. If you're interested, you can subscribe here. [infoanarchy.org] Jon has brought up the "intellectual inbreeding" argument on the list, and here's my response.

    I've been hearing the argument of "intellectual inbreeding" a lot. It seems like a strawman argument to me. You should watch some political discussion forums. In the liberal discussion forums, the conservatives are ignored -- in the conservative discussion forums, the liberals are ignored. People with so different views don't really talk to each other, even if they DO talk to each other. Even the mistakes that are undisputable are disputed. You can rationalize about everything, and people do it all the time.

    That's how the human brain works. It's our limbic system, our emotion center, that causes certain feelings when we think about certain subjects. When the smoker reads about the 238348th study that shows that smoking causes cancer, he knows: "If this is true, I'd have to stop smoking." Then his limbic system gets into the game: "But I don't WANT to stop smoking. Hey, cortex, think of a reason that I shouldn't stop doing it." Result: "Oh you know, George, for every study there's one that shows exactly the opposite. And by the way, my father was a regular smoker and lived until age 75 without problems. Why should I care?" Limbic system: "Great job, now I feel better. Give me another of those Marlboros .." ;-)

    The effect is called selective perception. People ignore the information that contradicts their emotionally cemented worldviews. Most people aren't even able -- you might say they're physically, anatomically unable -- to change their views on fundamental subjects. Selective perception is a really, really powerful mechanism.

    Is all hope lost for reason, then? I don't think so, but it has nothing to do with collaborative filtering. It's the ability to derive pleasure not from learning something that confirms what you know, but learning something that sounds like the truth. It's the "gut feeling" that truth is more important than "gut feelings". With an open mind, you will constantly seek new information to build a logically consistent worldview - from all reasonable sources.

    Unfortunately, only few people have this ability. Not because that's some kind of elitist natural law, but because our education system doesn't teach the scientific reasoning that's necessary to discern science from pseudoscience and truth from falsehood. The intellectuals are preaching postmodernism while the rest of the world goes to hell.

    Carl Sagan has written that while his parents were extremely important for his scientific career, his school did nearly entirely discourage him from ever going into the field of science. Only later at university he met the interesting guys. It's quite obvious that the education system will hardly get better, only worse. Need I say Columbine? The American education system is a hellhole for kids that are different, and the European one is often not really much better.

    The new media, however, give kids many new opportunities. Right now, it's still extremely difficult for a youngster to see the difference between what some nazi is saying on a propaganda website, or a scientific analysis of World War II. Because the kid probably doesn't have the value system to discern science from pseudoscience, he's virtually lost in the information jungle.

    The only solution, then, are the reputation and rating systems we already talked about. But here, the problem hinges a lot on how the reputations are implemented. It is absolutely essential that you have sophisticated trust metrics. I.e. an information can be recommended to me because a "friend of a friend of a friend" has recommended it.

    How popular one identity is within the network depends on their past history. People who are extremely suspectible to selective perception will be only trusted by people who share their particular fetishes. People who have an open mind, however, will be trusted by all users -- not on all subjects, but on some by each. Because they are the more reliable source of information.

    That way, people who are very good at fact-checking will inevitably rise to the top. Kids will be able to find mentors easily, and will learn to use the methods employed by them. These kids will grow up to be even better information managers -- the most important ability of the next century.

    In other words, collaborative filtering is not the problem, it is the solution. The situation we have right now is the problem, because dangerous memes can spread in isolated parts of the network, whereas a working trust metric combined with recommendation systems permeates the entire network and brings the best thinkers to the top.

    Sure, you can killfile them -- but the only effect will be that you yourself are isolated. The most dogmatic groups will also use whatever network becomes popular in the future, and they will try to shield themselves against any and all ideas that they find dangerous. But they will not be able to gain new members this way. They will die. The open minded ones will prevail.

    The idea of forcing people to include links they don't like is about as appealing to me as forcing schools to teach creationism.

    --

  • Don't tell that to the thousands of tech workers in the United States paying toplevel bracket income taxes without any effective representation.

    If the United States continues to increase imported talent, you could end up with a significant chunk of the top 5% of the wage earners being poltiically disenfranchised.

    So you tell me where the "citizens" are.

  • Admittedly, moderation can be said to be the enemy of free speech, but excessive freedom in unmoderated environments seems to breed 'chaff'. I find it to be as restrictive to my intake of new ideas to allow thousands of useless or antagonistic posts to proliferate these message boards. I do not have the time in my life to personally sift through hundereds of pointless posts searching for the jewel of information. Instead, I visit places where people I am somewhat trusting of moderate the posts for my perusal. There is, perhaps, a weakness to any system, and until humans cease to exploit the relatively new anonymity of the internet for their attention-getting behaviors, I and many others will be forced to rely on moderated systems. Oh, and this is my first ./ post. I am elated to have finally found something worth speaking up about.
  • Collaborative filtering and comment programs are all the rage these days on the Net, a symbol of empowerment, choice, freedom, self-policing, even protection.

    The very first sentice of Jon's article is false, and yet he wonders why so few people read his whole article before commenting.

    Collaborative filtering and comment programs are not "all the rage". It's something that goes on here and a few other pages, but over 95% of the sites on a regular basis have no such system. Another case of Jon's myopic worldview revealed though his column.

    I kind of pity Mr. Katz. He is genuinely trying to sort out What It All Means, and that means looking for global trends in a wildy diverse and chaotic environment. The sad truth is that the only universal trend on the net is that there are no other universal trends on the net.

    The only reason I have not turned on the notorious "Katz filter" is because the comments which follow his trolling articles often have very interesting discussions. Perhaps instead of all the JonKatz Article Generator scripts floating around, he could just be replaced with a random topic generator, just enough to kick off the thread.

  • Even when you walk down the street, or have a debate in a bar, the reactions of your fellows have an impact on you and your own opinions. Ultimately, If you don't like the jerks to go to a particular bar, you stop patronizing the place.

    I am sure that with many of the flames that go on, people here ultimately drive some MS people away, rather than converting any to the local cause.

    Part of what makes a community IS the interaction of individuals, one with another. Because there are poeple who fear the word responsibility, and who foam and flame at the mouth at anything that is contrary to there opinion, you have to decide what is worthwhile in order to continue the community. Many of us have seen web communities fall apart into a mass of flame wars.

    Aleister Crowley tells a story of the religious life of his mother and sisters, members of a group called the Plymouth Bretheran. (I hope I have the story right)- Basically the group kept splitting up to the point that they were down to two members, each arguing with each other over who was the saved one and who was in the ranks of the damned with the rest of the world, having committed the crime of heresy.

    So to have any kind of community, you have to have some sort of interaction where you can receive the input of your fellows, and take them to heart, and make an accomodation. Show respect for the opinions of others. And have a respect for your own rights as well.

    This is a koan, the koan of how you have a community and still have your self.

    but it is so much more fun to use the flame thrower, isn't it?

  • I completely agree that it's a good thing to be exposed to viewpoints different than your own. I try, from time to time, to remember to read articles that I know I disagree with. I come away either realizing that the article's reasoning was flawed, and why, thus making my understanding of the opposing position better; or, sometimes, with the sneaking suspicion that maybe I was wrong after all and I should rethink my position. Either way, I like to think that I am a stronger person for it.

    But I would never force someone to be exposed to viewpoints that they don't want to be exposed to. This is the central point of the article: it is good to be exposed to alternative viewpoints, but it is bad to be forced to be exposed to alternative viewpoints.

    Unfortunately, I see no middle ground here, and I prefer to stick with the current system where people are not forced to be exposed to alternative viewpoints, as the lesser of two evils.

    Some of us may remember when television stations were required to give "equal time" to opposing viewpoints. This was eventually struck down as unconstitutional. It amounts to forcing someone to speak in a way they do not wish to speak. Freedom of speech includes the freedom not to speak (as Katz acknowledges). I have no intention of giving up my freedom not to speak, even at the potential "cost" of people not being forced to be exposed, against their will, to alternative viewpoints.

    But there's another, more insidious danger with "equal time" laws, either of the sort that used to exist in this country, or of the sort that Sunstein suggests. It misleads people into thinking that there are only two viewpoints on any issue. In fact, on important issues, there are likely to be three or five or ten different viewpoints.

    How many of us are fed up with both Republicans and Democrats? Under equal time laws, Republican and Democratic views can be presented as opposing viewpoints, with all others suppressed. "Surely," you may ask, "having all but two viewpoints suppressed is better than having all but one viewpoint suppressed?" No, I don't agree. If only one viewpoint is presented, I believe most people will realize that it is not the only viewpoint. If only two are presented, I fear that more people will think they are getting the full picture.

    In their debates last year, one of the few issues Bush and Gore disagreed on was whether to use some of the U.S. oil reserves. Meanwhile, libertarians were asking why we have government-owned oil reserves at all; but that viewpoint was not considered. It's bad enough when it happens in presidential debates, but it would be worse to have it happen across all news.

    To take another example, a website under Sunstein's rules, might expose people to "both" sides of the abortion debate by presenting an article with the extreme pro-life position, and one with the extreme pro-choice position. Extremists on both sides of this issue claim that there can be no compromise--depsite the fact that the vast, but nonvocal majority of Americans seem to want a compromise, allowing abortion early in the pregnancy but not allowing partial-birth abortions. Is this really a good way to expose people to differing viewpoints?

    I (and I would suspect, most other people) simply do not have the time to read every possible viewpoint on an issue. I do not read every comment in a /. article with 500+ comments, even though I know I might be missing some valuable comments. Given this practical limitation, there seem to me to be only two possibilities: give each person individual control over how to filter which comments he and she will read (and accept that some people will apply filters that I personally don't agree with), or have a "moderation czar" (no doubt Sunstein himself would be happy to volunteer for this) who decides which alternative viewpoints people should be exposed to. I'll stick with the former, thank you very much.

  • I actually spent some time over the last two weeks reading at -1 and found that there were a lot of great things going on just below the "Score: 1" level. Sure there was a lot of unnecessary homophobia. But a lot of the intelligent contributions of AC's never gets modded up, simply because moderators don't browse at 0. I also noticed a lot of fairly reasonable posts moderated down for simply being unpopular or less sophisticated in their wording. And frankly, I can't believe that the average Slashdotter doesn't appreciate some of the better "All your beowulf cluster of natalie portmans are belong to us" jokes one sees in the 0/-1 range.
  • Those who moderate comments on Slashdot, Kuro5shin and other community-based weblogs may downgrade content they don't find worthwhile in a genuine effort to express their thoughts as readers and participants -- a freedom no newspaper reader or television viewer has. One person's new freedom is another's' censorship, though. Congress has required, for instance, that schools and libraries who want to take advantage of lucrative e-Rate funding for their networking projects employ content-filtering software. The same basic mechanism (content is chosen before it reaches the viewer), but with very different motivations. As various methods and reasons for content filtering spread, they bring with them some dark clouds."

    The basic mechanism is NOT the same. In one case, no matter how low a comment gets moderated, you can still get it by changing your own filter settings. In another, someone has made it IMPOSSIBLE to reach some content through the available interface. One preserves a filtering function that allows us to enjoy our freedoms more, the other eliminates our freedoms to make our own decisions about content if we don't like the ones the authorities have made. Very different indeed.

    Bryguy
  • Speaking as an old-school liberal, I have to agree - universities are becoming far too politicized and trying to express the "wrong" opionion will not be permitted. A recent survey indicated that over 70% of college students think racist speech should be banned - we've got a real problem.

    These people are an insult to real liberals, who have always believed that the average person is smart enough to make up their own mind - that's why liberals have spent two centuries campaigning for the right to vote for the "lesser people" of all types - because these people matter.

    Don't forget that there are too many religous schools where expressing the opposite "wrong" opinion will result in equally harsh censure.
  • "...to mimic the press's deadly habit of balancing every single point of view with an opposite one..." [Emphasis mine]

    "Deadly habit"? I dunno. I think I'd rather have the press presenting both sides, even when it's "obvious" which side is right, than to have them wholeheartedly advocate one point of view to the exclusion of alternative thoughts. With the current system, we the reader can make our own judgment as to which side to believe. With the alternative, we will never even hear about the other side in order to make a judgment.
    ________________

  • Esteemed Mr. Baggins,

    Thank you for the honor of your reply.

    Unfortunately, the worthy intentions of the book, and its cultural analysis, leave few ends to those of us who want to avoid the effects of commercialized filtering. Many Americans, like some hobbits, have an irritating tendency to shut out all but the most eminently practical things there in front of them. They will gladly put up a digital windowblind, no matter if an outside force has brought it in.

    The question of how we filter is more cultural, then, than political. For this, the only options we have in politics to address are law, policy and economics, none of which are exact or direct instruments.

    Our options right now are a legislative wall and a market-based, open and voluntary evolution of filtering software.

    I would direct my energy at preventing the government from institutionalizing this software until a content neutral or a content specific manner can be found to block the most dangerous sites while protecting the richness of information of the Net at large.

    Rigid laws must be passed as to what can be blocked and what cannot be blocked in public access places and in workplaces (corporate software filtering union organizing sites is one example I can think of).

    But for the rest of us and for the home, we should not restrict the choice of blinds.. in this case the civil libertarian principle applies, and the cure is worse than the ailment.

    We can only hope that the people like you, who have an independent sense of information-- the readers of this book and other messages like it-- will raise their own families with only the most limited and reasonable filters, over which they have complete control.

    Sincerely yours,

    Reva "Perdida" Altamira

  • Unmoderated forums have been done. Do a websearch for 'usenet'. Hope that helps!
  • While I agree that it's important for people to have the widest possible exposure to a variety of different ways of thinking, I think that it's ridiculous to even consider trying to mandate it. Let's face it, some people just don't want to improve themselves. Others are too lazy. But here's the kicker: the people who get the widest exposure to new ideas, the people who are the most well-rounded intellectually and socially will be the ones most likely to be sucessful. The "me media" doesn't change that at all. And so Darwin is still going to favor "new thinkers."

    Moderation systems like Slashdot uses are useful in that they do not "censor" ideas that are less popular but that they draw more attention to the ideas that more interesting, insgihtful, funny, whatever. I still read posts scored 1, just not every last one of them. I do read all posts scored at 2 or higher. But Slashdot's system I think may be a little different in that it severely limits the amount of moderation that any one individual can do. I think that's a Good Thing. More importantly, it's all voluntary. I can read messages scored at -1 if I want to.

    I read about this very subject 4 or 5 years ago when the "push revolution" was beginning. The concern then was that Internet use would become passive (no more browsing) and that we would constantly be provided with information that we found interesting, relevant, or idealogically reasonable and that we wouldn't be provided with anything conflicting. It hasn't happened yet, and "push" technology is dead. I don't think that it's ever going to happen.

    What we are really talking about is narrowcasting, and I think that it is a Good Thing as long as it is an option that is controlled by the user. As long as broadcasting is still an option and browsing is still an option users will not be able to accidentally paint themselves into a single idealogy.

    Take for example (again) Slashdot. I'm constantly learning and being exposed to new ideas from it just by browsing it daily. I see hundreds of messages on each topic, and never have they all taken the same stance. There are always naysayers and yaysayers, and many degrees in between. And I'm exposed to their thinking (for better or worse) regularly.

    Now I think back 100 years before the widespread growth of communications technology. Or maybe 200 years. We (most of us) would have grown up in some small town or village or on a farm, for all intents and purposes isolated from almost all other people who were not also farmers (or lived in the same village/town). We would have lived isolated from new ideas. We wouldn't have any way of hearing about a breakthrough in the invention of a combustion engine. But it still happened.

    So even if we are still isolated intellectually (which I think requires a ridiculous amount of passivity on the part of everybody) innovation will find a way. Someone somewhere will continue to come up with new ideas and new technology. I mean, let's face it: we're human beings. It's what we do.
  • Here on Slashdot we have developed, as a community, and incredibally powerful tool, that will one day break out of its ghetto and be used on many online communities. When online communities become popular and break into the mainstream in 10 years or so, they will be controlled by the multinationals, of this there can be no argument. Microsoft and AOL will be controlling them.

    The moderation system developed here on Slashdot is a first, and the technology it represents can be considered a beta test by the multinationals.

    How long before they take it and control it for their own ends? Moderation is a very right wing and controlling force - rather than punishing people who post trolls and flamebaitish comments, and are irresponsible, by sending them from the community they abuse (k5 can be said to do this), we instead ignore them, and blot them out, which means that they never need to face responsibility for what they do.

    Furthermore. this technology developed here can be said to be very powerful, but it will be perverted by the forces that be.

    In 20 years time it will be the geeks here that created the moderation system moaning about it in YRO articles. This is, yet again in the geek community, hypocrisy.

    Moderation should not be used. It shouold be a free for all, with the irresponsible forced to face up to what they do. Its that simple.

  • People have always attempted to filter out ideas they don't want to listen to. Did you think the Catholic church didn't have public suppor for burning heretics at the stake? Even in the short history of the USA, there are plenty of examples of both private and governmental violence being used to avoid having to listen to the other side. In the War of 1812, critics of the war were arrested for "Sedition" (quite unconstitutionally, but the Supreme Court wasn't yet confident that it could review things like that). In the 1850's, in Congressional debates over slavery there were Congressmen beating each other unconscious; at least they didn't murder each other like was happening in Kansas. In the 1920's, Attorney General Palmer (quite illegally) arrested many for "radical" views. (Hilary Clinton is more radical than most of those persecuted were.) In the 1950's, the FBI was still so busy investigating "radicals" that it didn't even notice there was a Mafia until the NY state police busted a national meeting of mob bosses. I assume nobody needs to hear more about the 60's. And so on...

    So a simple internet filter is a considerable improvement over what has happened historically. It does bother me that many people can so insulate themselves as to never hear the other side of the story -- but what has changed? Throughout my lifetime the network news, major newspapers, and most magazines have kept their coverage limited to things that won't unduly surprise the 75% of Americans who don't bother to dig deeper.
  • The trouble is, these statistics compare two self-selected groups -- people who care enough to seek out news on the internet vs. people who don't. It doesn't prove much about what some guy that is content with the few minutes of real news coverage a day on pme 1/2 hour TV "news" show would do if you took away the TV and replaced it with an internet terminal.
  • Not so. The U.S. is about having the freedom to go live in the woods by yourself, but with freedom comes responsibility. Therefore, it is also your responsibility to vote, to be concerned about what the government is doing, and to be concerned about your neighbor's well being. You wouldn't have roads to drive on if no one voted for the proper people to run the country. If everyone thought as you do, we would have anarchy, and you'd be holed up in the woods, rifle in hand, hoping no one came by to take everything they wanted from you just because they could.
  • Jon missed his calling. He should have been recruited for Battlefield Earth. What's wrong Jon? Still ticked that all those people who checked your box off in their preferences?

    I'm finally beginning to see why people hate this guy. Every article he's put out in the last 3 weeks is a boring little whine fest. Oh nooo! Personalized media allows people to turn off my driveling opinion. What will I do? Where will I go? Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

    Next in a series. Mute...Cute little button or Satan's helper? You be the judge.

  • Because they're good for you. While only getting the information you want may be democratic, it may not be necessarily good for either you or society.

    The digitalization of information helps you find information you know about but may close you off to new ideas and experiences.

    Take a look at the humble card catalogue, once a fixture at the local library. I used to find all sorts of books to read -books I never would have though to look for- simply by flipping though the cards. With a computerized index I find what I'm looking for faster, but I've lost the chance to stumble onto something new.

  • You wrote:

    Unfortunately, as I stated in an earlier post, there is no way to prevent the divergence of media, or the Balkanization as you put it, without resorting to even more stentorian methods of control.

    Admit it: you've been waiting years you use stentorian [dictionary.com] in a sentence.

  • It's crazy to think that open-minded people like myself would intentionally limit the ideas we are exposed to just because we don't like them.
    I think it's about time I stopped letting Katz on my Slashdot page

    This is the greatest piece of satire I have read in a long time. Congrats to the author for poking fun at all the other people that want to ban Katz but somehow not limit ideas!
    =========================

  • by BeBoxer (14448) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:33AM (#337499)
    How do things like this even get posted? It's crazy to think that open-minded people like myself would intentionally limit the ideas we are exposed to just because we don't like them. Thank god Slashdot lets me choose which stories make it to my personalized front page. I think it's about time I stopped letting Katz on my Slashdot page so I don't have to see his lame theories and rants anymore.
  • by scruffy (29773) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @09:06AM (#337500)
    If there is a flaw in Sunstein's arguments, it is that the information winnowing he decries has become more and more necessary due to the sheer volume of data beamed at individual users.

    The real flaw is that Sunstein wants somebody to decide what everybody needs to know, somebody to tell us what to believe. Sorry, the "cure" is worse than the "disease".

    The real problem is our schools, parents, and peers focus on telling us what to believe instead of teaching us how to determine what to believe.

  • by StenD (34260) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:49AM (#337501)
    It wasn't as consumer-driven as the 'net permits it to be, but in the heyday of the newspaper, most major cities had the Democratic paper and the Republican paper, and most people who read newspapers purchased one or the other, not both. With the rise to dominance of television and the decline of newspapers, there was less diversity in viewpoints, but the 'net and cable television has helped to restore the diversity of opinion sources. The 'common experience' apparently being extolled was not the historical legacy of the American Revolution, but was instead an abberant blip in history, and people seeking out viewpoints they agree with is the historical norm. I'm not claiming that this is good, but to argue that this is a new behavior is wrong.
  • by MadAhab (40080) <slasherNO@SPAMahab.com> on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @10:53AM (#337502) Homepage Journal
    What? You are actually claiming that it's MORE fascist, not LESS, to ignore, yet allow, dissenters, crackpots, and jackasses with some stupid agenda, as opposed to PUNISHING them and, essentially, removing their membership in a society?

    Good troll.

    And contgrats for Katz on taking a different tactic; trolling outright. He actually entertains the argument that "should be exposed to ideas they might not have chosen themselves" by consuming mass media from the most solipsistic generation in memory, targeted specifically to their foibles and self-delusions in the most sophisticated pandering yet known.

    There is a real point in saying that you are not informed, no matter how much information you consume, if that information does not include sources in common with society at large. I just can't believe that today's mass media represents the alternative in any real sense; that material goes through a "moderation" process more brutal, arbitrary, and self-limiting than anything else I've seen.

    Yet taking these viewpoints and re-reading the article again, I can't help getting the feeling that Sunstein's views are far more sophisticated than the "Slashdot destroys journalism; death of civil society soon to follow" message that Katz extracts from them.

    Boss of nothin. Big deal.
    Son, go get daddy's hard plastic eyes.

  • by wowbagger (69688) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:51AM (#337503) Homepage Journal
    (couldn't resist that bit of irony...)

    I agree with this. The whole "must-carry link" idea is terrible: your right to freedom of speech does not obligate me to listen! If I choose to ignore you, how DARE you try to force your opinion on me!

    In meat space, if someone tries to force me to listen to them, I can walk away, tell them to shut up, even kick them in the crotch if that is what it takes. Online, I can add them to my killfile (which I do sincerely wish the /. crew would add). How dare this person suggest I be FORCED not to do this!

    There is a big difference between /. style moderation (there are enough divergent opinions among the moderators that any well expressed view will likely be moderated up) and the "groupthink" this article fears. Yes, I know there are certain alledged groupthinks here on /., but consider: how often do Pro-Windows, Pro-BSD, Pro-Mac views show up and get moderated up, in defiance to the alleged Linux groupthink. How often to pro-gun views get moderated up (or anti-gun). For a site that is allegedly "groupthink" run, a surprising diversity of opinions grace these pages...
  • by jheinen (82399) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @11:59AM (#337504) Homepage
    I agree that the 'net is a great place to find detailed information on certain subjects, and far outstrips the mass media's ability to deliver that kind of "nuts and bolts" type of info. But in that case we are dealing in the realm of hard facts. It is relatively easy to determine the "truth" of such information, because it deals with empirical data.

    My concern, and what I think the article was getting at, was the more nebulous "news" type of information, where it is difficult to get facts, and you must rely on the information provided by the "actors" themselves. "Me media" simply doesn't have the capability to investigate and filter this kind of information, because Bob down the block does not have the ability to call up Joe Congressman and ask about his recent activities at the Bada-Bing! club. News organizations developed precisely in order to discover and disseminate this kind of information. I don't really see any way that "me media" can ever make serious inroads into this network, because it is simply impossible for the sources of information (congresspersons, business executives, police, etc.) to maintain a relationship with every wanna-be alternative journalist out there. It is for this reason that "me media" sites will continue to offer regurgitated mainstream news information, and the public at large will still be afforded the opportunity to hear mainstream information, and thereby be cemented by the "social glue" of collective experience.

    There will remain an important role for the non-traditional journalist however, in that he will be reponsible for paying close attention to the performance of the mainstream outlets in order to make sure that coverage does not become biased. The non-traditional journalist can "raise the red flag" as it were, when MSNBC appears to bias their coverage in favor of the their corporate owners, or CNN starts leaning too much in favor of George W. As aggregation points for mainstream news, such sites can serve as the checks and balances against the various sources of coverage, allowing the consumer to compare the various mainstream stories to try and identify what's really going on.

    -Vercingetorix

  • by supabeast! (84658) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:26AM (#337505)
    People have always used media to escape reality. That's the point. This is why video/role playing games have always been bad for "geeks," providing an escape from the reality that they fear to a false one that they can feel safe in.

    It goes back farther than that though. Remember your mother yelling at you to stop watching TV and do your homework? Same concept. Stop shirking important stuff just to be a zombie.

    The book Katz speaks of is just the work of someone stating the obvious. Of course, Katz being the genius that he is, needs the obvious pointed out, and assumes that others do, too.
  • by ReadbackMonkey (92198) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:26AM (#337506)
    The moderation system allows me to ignore people that I might not agree with (read at 2), or to try to read every opinion posted (read at 1). This system is only censorship if there is no choice for me to read at the lower level, I quite often don't agree with moderation, hence I read at -1, but the bottom line is it is my choice just as it is in life.

    If I'm watching T.V. and something comes on that I don't want to watch, I change the channel. It's a simply as that. This moderation system isn't anything new, it's a simple evolution from traditional media forms. Freedom of speech doesn't mean I have to listen to you, it just means you get to say whatever you want.
  • by FTL (112112) <slashdot@n[ ].fraser.name ['eil' in gap]> on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:28AM (#337507) Homepage
    > They are important, nonetheless, he says,
    > partly because they protect against fragmentation
    > and extremism, a predictable outcome when
    > like-minded people communicate only with one another."

    The problem with mass-media is that in order to survive it must have mass-appeal. Consequently, mass-media tends to be extremely shallow in its treatment of issues, since they know that for any story, 80% of the audience aren't interested in it. So they have to keep moving from topic to topic trying to keep their audience from becoming bored.

    With "Me Media" I can point a microscope at one story, and delve far beneath the surface. In doing so I've aquired an understanding about a particular topic, not just been exposed to a dozen one-liners that will all be forgotten the next day.

    I'll grant that "Me Media" produces less conformity (whether this is a bad thing or not is a separate discussion). But one cannot deny that mass-media is a lot shallower.
    --

  • by mr_gerbik (122036) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @09:05AM (#337508)
    Heres an idea - Anarchy Day on Slashdot

    All account holders get unlimited moderation points for one day. Articles have no score limit. You can only mod each post once. Sounds like fun to me.

    I have no idea what this would possibly accomplish or signify, but I'm sure Katz could come up with some bullshit theory about how this experiment is related to Columbine, mass media tyranny and his movie review of the week.

    -gerbik
  • by plover (150551) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @09:07AM (#337509) Homepage Journal
    What about NoCeMs? The idea where you trust only specific moderators, who you select as having viewpoints that "filter" the news as per your tastes?

    You may decry moderation as a bad thing, but I stopped having time for Frist p0sts a long time ago. Yes, moderators can and definitely do abuse their power, especially so around here where moderation happens anonymously. Do I care? Not enough to give up using moderation. I simply don't have time to listen to everyone's drivel, and I truly don't care about the troll-of-the-week. For me, missing the occasional post that the chri$tian fscking coalition or the clam$ mod down to -1 still wasn't worth my time to hunt down, because, frankly, very little of what happens around here is really "stuff that matters."

    Knowing how moderation works at least lets me recognize the dangers inherent to moderation. I'd still love to see NoCeMs implemented for moderation so I could filter out some of the idiot moderators who think goat-abuse is worth my time.

    John

  • by _|()|\| (159991) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @09:29AM (#337510)
    His point ... seems to be that all these choices are bad for us.

    I'm a web junkie, and I've given the matter some thought. My primary sources of information are USENET and the web. Of course, I only keep up with a few out of the thousands of newsgroups. Likewise, I follow a few quite specialized web sites, like Slashdot. When the focus is so narrow, it's easy to lose perspective, especially when egoboo like Slashdot kharma is involved.

    Have you ever gotten hot under the collar after an anonymous coward's flame? Why? If "All you hot Natalie Portman grits are belong to us!" makes any sense to you, you probably don't get out enough.

    I'm convinced that there's a danger in always agreeing with what you read. I read a Mother Hubbard at the gym the other night. It had an article pointing out the irony of a Republican senator (I forget his name) who helped pass mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions, then helped his son avoid such a sentence. Right on, stick it to the hypocrite! Then again, I feel a little insulted by Mother Hubbard's obvious agenda.

    The world would be a better place if conservatives read Mother Hubbard and liberals read the Wall Street Journal, or something like that.

  • by Darth RadaR (221648) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:36AM (#337511) Journal
    The moderation system developed here on Slashdot is a first,

    Nah. Moderation has been used for years on alt.sysadmin.recovery. I pity the fool that does a "all your base are belong to us" over there. :)

    IMHO, moderation != censorship. Moderation is just a real nice way of cutting through some of the line-noise. You have the right to sat what you want, and I have the right to say you've got a good point or you're simply talking sh*t.

  • by unformed (225214) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:23AM (#337512)
    According to Sunstein, software is helping us talk only to ourselves.

    Maybe so, but it has its advantages too. If it wasn't for the movie players and all the popups I wouldn't have become so close to my hand. And if I hadn't gotten close to my hand, I wouldn't be getting laid.

    See...it all works out in the end :)
  • Unfortunately, as I stated in an earlier post, there is no way to prevent the divergence of media, or the Balkanization as you put it, without resorting to even more stentorian methods of control.

    When you walk around in a world of printed media, it is already enclosed in private places and relationships. You walk into an adult book store to pay for the stuff. That is a place where common ground is excluded; the common ground (the street) cannot legally be a place to display the porn.

    On the Internet, there is nothing intrinsically preventing the porn marketer from doing something that, to continue the metaphor of the real life adult shop, would make the windows as light and bright as Macy's, attractive to everyone who wants to see it and obnoxious to those who don't. There should be some kind of filtering software to demarcate a public space which those who want to make a buck will freely violate.

    We support laws for the restriction of smoking advertisements, which use strategic locations and attractive appearances to get attention- just like porn sites. I definitely prefer filtering software, which you can choose to download and use, to laws that would make the entire internet a public space. Even better, a free market to promote competition of filtering software will improve the software far better than a static law will.

    I feel those who wopuld like a wholly unregulated Net, which has no mechanism that protects us neither voluntarily or through law, are unaware of the true content, architecture and behavior of the modern Net. It is no longer a primarily scientific system... just read this [cnn.com] CNN article about how searches can't even touch most of the hidden Internet anymore.

    -perdida

  • by CyberDawg (318613) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:33AM (#337514) Homepage

    There appear to be some very valid points here. I make a point of switching back-and-forth between the most liberal radio station in my area and the most conservative, deliberately exposing myself to both points of view (the middle ground comes from other media). The two points the author appears to have missed are:

    Moderation systems like Slashdot's are radically different from net nanny filtering because users have the opportunity to configure how they apply, not just the filtering criteria. I can choose to ignore moderation entirely, showing all posts, or to set various cutoff points and sorting methods. I enjoy seeing opposing points of view, but appreciate methods for filtering out anonymous cowards and some trolls (good trolling is humorous, insightful, and enjoyable to read).

    Second, the homogenization of news is hardly something new. If I choose to read Windows NT Magazine instead of Linux Journal, I'm not going to read much pro-Linux information, am I? We already have a lot of control over what we see, and the changes brought by the customization of places like My Yahoo or Slashdot are parts of a long-standing trend, not something new and revolutionary.

  • by Moofie (22272) <lee&ringofsaturn,com> on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:27AM (#337515) Homepage
    Any given web site may espouse a certain political or sociological viewpoint, but there are arbitrarily large numbers of web sites. Hell, Slashcode is open source...if you don't like what you find out there, make your own!

    The Internet is about niches. It's not about selling dishwasher detergent and Pepsi (although those companies would disagree), it's about selling imported Japanese giant robot models and European release CDs. Markets that are too small to survive in any geographic region can be profitably addressed by the Internet. The same goes for ideas...the pre-digested pap can be replaced by discussion, collaboration, and exploration. Moreover, the mere fact that there are millions of voices speaking is far preferable to the monoculture popular media we're putting up with now. If all the voices start sounding alike, that's not necessarily bad...consensus does not limit freedom, but hollering one message from one source in everybody's ears 24/7 does.
  • by q2k (67077) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:15AM (#337516) Homepage
    His point (based on Jon's article, I have not read the book) seesm to be that all these choices are bad for us. 'Common Framework" sounds suspiciously like "Group Think." Its better that we all get the same info - even if its not entirely accurate?? I don't buy it, choice is good, as long as you really have a choice. The problems start when the "choices" are not really that different.
  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @11:55AM (#337517) Journal
    I've read this argument many times, and each of the authors harkens back to days of his youth when 'everybody' watched the same TV shows last night, and when you went to school or work the next day you all had something to talk about. Or, you all watched the same news shows, so people had a common reference as a framework for discussion.

    I think that this was a complete, and fortunately short-lived, disaster. I cannot imagine a worse tyranny than that of corporate-media consensus driven into everybody's skull. This existed from the beginning of mass media in the first days of nationwide network radio until the decline of the networks during the nineties. Before network radio, people lived in fairly cloistered environments [you can say Balkanized if you felt like it.] Even the churches were pretty decentralized -- there were common themes and dogma, but without mass communication each church had autonomy.

    I love the Slashdot moderation system. While there are definitely some common themes that get moderated up or down -- causing some bias (biases that agree with mine for the large part) moderation has the intended effect of letting you see well-written or at least well-reasoned points of view. It certainly influences my writing; and I write differently for Slashdot than I do for USENET because of the moderation quality-filter.

    The thing is, that if you want to find divergent viewpoints, you can just talk to other people. I don't know why the author of this book doesn't realize this. Whenever I'm with my friends, we talk about what we've been reading; and I find out wonderful things that I wouldn't find on my own. I'd much rather do this than be forced to skip over links of alternative viewpoints [alternatives selected by whom? on what agenda? under what supervision?]

    The author's vision of mandated consensus is truly insane. The number of viewpoints on any issue of any import is nearly infinite; there is no way that you can force them all to be 'carried' under some 'must carry' rule.

    Finally, a proof that consnesus is impossible is to extend the author's argument just a little further. Why should this glorious mandated consensus just be limited to Americans? If it's good for all (US) Americans to have this consensus, wouldn't it be even better for Canadians to be included too? And Mexicans? Russians? Chinese? Martians? Diversity exists, and it's a powerfully good thing. Command consensus won't work any more than command economies -- the marketplace of ideas is fluid and efficient.

    thad

  • by Chakat (320875) on Tuesday March 27, 2001 @08:45AM (#337518) Homepage
    You don't like moderation? Then turn it off. You can always chose to browse at -1 and read all the utter crap that goes on down there. In contrast to most of the major news services, you can chose exactly how you want to filter the content here. Hell, if you want, you could hack up a perl script in an afternoon so that you only read the goatse.cx and ascii art spams.

    Besides, if we ever do get fascistic moderators who deny us the choice of reading the shit, we can go elsewhere. Voting with one's eyeballs and one's wallets are much more powerful than you think.

    Although, you're wring about one important thing. Moderation does have teeth and does punish the irresponsible - you get moderated down far enough and you get banned for a day.

Save a little money each month and at the end of the year you'll be surprised at how little you have. -- Ernest Haskins

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