A fascinating new study of the ideological integration of the internet is the subject of today’s David Brooks column in the New York Times. The new study brings into question long-held assumptions that the internet is bad for democracy. From the column, Brooks explains:
. . . the core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News.
But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck’s Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times’s Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web.
It is so easy to click over to another site that people travel widely. And they’re not even following links most of the time; they have their own traveling patterns.
Gentzkow and Shapiro found that the Internet is actually more ideologically integrated than old-fashioned forms of face-to-face association — like meeting people at work, at church or through community groups. You’re more likely to overlap with political opponents online than in your own neighborhood. . . .