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Internet making us politically narrow-minded?

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New York :Personalised information on internet could be making us more politically polarised, since we are selectively exposed to like-minded information that confirms our point of view, new research has found.

Internet technologies are likely exacerbating the behaviour of selective exposure, according to Ivan Dylko, an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo in US.

“We tend to look for information that confirms our points of view,” said Dylko. “It bolsters self-esteem, helps us effectively cope with political information overload, but on the other hand, it means we’re minimising exposure to information that challenges us,” Dylko said.

Dylko developed a model that explores political impact of customisability and suggests how the “automatic and consistent inclusion, exclusion and presentation of information” encourages political selective exposure.
He conducted an experimental study to test his model. At first glance, selective exposure would not appear to be a product of the information age.

Newspaper readers once had to decide which local paper to read. The same has been true of what people we chose to talk to and associate with for thousands of years.

But what media consumers did with print and broadcast is not the same process that emerges online, nor is the idea of selective exposure as intuitive as it might seem, with researchers divided on its consequences.

Users now have an unprecedented amount of information to deal with – forcing them to be more selective than ever; they have an unprecedented diversity of content choices – allowing them to find content that matches their beliefs and attitudes more closely than ever; and they have customisable technology providing control over the information they receive.

Presets on old radio panels or print subscriptions might appear to be ancestors of customisability. However, pushing a button or dropping a renewal form in the mail required conscious choices.

Online, the process is automatic, sometimes user driven, but also system driven, often occurring without a user’s knowledge.

Facebook, which 63 per cent of its users say serves as a news source, according to Pew Research Centre, is built on customisability, the researchers said.

Users add and remove friends, events and groups from their environment while the site analyses all of this activity and determines what personal news cycle to present. Same is true of Twitter and numerous other popular websites.

Customisability technologies, initially designed to help us cope with information overload, lead to detrimental political effects, said Dylko.

“They increase political selective exposure, making us more surrounded with like-minded information and, potentially, making us more politically polarised,” he said. The study was published in the journal Communication Theory.

PTI