Is the Web Polarizing America?

The world wide web has brought people and ideas together far better than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago. Being able to communicate with anyone, anywhere at any time has made the world a much smaller place and provided us access to information and ideas no one dreamed possible a couple of decades earlier.

Citizens across the globe can discuss news, politics or any other subject with impunity on blogs,  forums, news sites and more. Of course, impunity could be part of the problem that I am addressing.

Don’t get me wrong, freedom to express one’s views is a fundamental right in this country. It is essential to the evolution of our society for everyone to express their views on what’s happening in the world. Of course, spreading misinformation can help a group dominate the debate on any issue and this sort of thing happens all too frequently on the web.

On the web, news is gathered continuously and made available as soon as it happens anywhere in the world. Information about ongoing events can spread across the world in a millisecond. In some cases, this sort of thing happens much to the annoyance of governments or business entities that would prefer such information not be made available to anyone.

We have seen this during the Iraq War, the Iranian elections and numerous other events across the world. Social media has spawned a number of i-reporters that call people to action by giving their versions of news or events as they unfold across the world. Some are quite objective and others are not very close to the truth at all.

A recent example is the “death panel” myth that was broadcast both on the internet and television by numerous conservative groups and individuals. The healthcare provision in question was about compensating doctors for consulting with patients about end of life planning so the patient can determine exactly how they would like to be cared for in their final days…not to determine whether they should get life saving treatments.

In the past, doctors were not compensated for this consultation and consequently didn’t encourage it. Once a patient reaches their final days of life, the conversation cannot take place and hundreds of thousands of dollars can be spent sustaining a condition the patient might not want sustained.

Whether you are for or against healthcare reform, misrepresenting the issues detracts from the real debate. Scare tactics have been a staple of both political parties and I am sure will continue to be part of their arsenal.

When the stories originate from a trusted source like CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS or a myriad of other credible news organizations, it is as good as it gets. Unfortunately, other interpretations of news events and stories as told by so-called internet journalists can vary from being somewhat slanted to downright fabrications of the truth.

Of course, when everyone has access to the same medium for reporting, then one would be naïve not to expect exaggerations, misinterpretations or complete fabrications of the truth to be broadcast. Fortunately, there are sites that deal specifically with uncovering the facts and exposing myths or outright lies on the net such as snopes.com, wikipedia.com, truthorfiction.com, smokinggun.com, etc. Major news organizations take part in the debunking as well.

Okay, we agree that biased and inaccurate reporting will always be an issue on the web. What does that have to do with polarizing of America? The polarization has to do with where we congregate when we go online.

Most people are attracted to sites that share their ideological, cultural and lifestyle views. In doing this, we are unknowingly choosing sides and drinking the coolaid. The battle lines are being drawn and we are being told to rail against the other side or group.

Remember not so long ago when we all got our news from the same broadcasts on television and read the same newspapers? At that time, we used our selective perception and intellect to hone in on stories and news that interested us.

But we were all drinking from the same well. It was up to us to assimilate the news of the day and come to our own conclusions. With the advent of the internet, we can have someone else to provide us with our point of view based on where we fit in the political and social spectrum.

We draw our own line on the internet when we determine which special interest group to join. It seems to me that we are letting our group, party or lifestyle affiliation determine what we think and how we perceive the news and the current events of the day.

We are being spoon fed our take on America and the world. We get calls to action daily on how we should react to these events and how we should feel about them.

Frankly, that doesn’t seem much like democracy in action. And yes, I realize that America is not a true democracy, but a republic, so don’t get incensed and correct me. It is easier to let our web groups tell us what to think and how to act.

But is that a good thing? Are we becoming the lemmings described by George Orwell in his book, 1984, albeit special interest lemmings? Do we need to let someone else interpret the news and draw conclusions for us? Recent town hall meetings would suggest such behavior, as would the left calling for prosecution of the previous administration for war crimes.

I am not suggesting you cut your ties with your favorite sites relating to your political party, special interest groups or other affiliations. I am only suggesting that you look at more than one side of an issue or event and draw your own conclusions.

It seems to me that the best ideas come from spirited intellectual debate not predetermined conclusions made for us by our party affiliation or Facebook group. One of the reasons my partners and I started www.BoomerOpinion.com was to democratize the process.  BoomerOpinion.com has no affiliations with political groups and encourages open discussions on every issue.

Sure, each of the partners have their own political views, but our polls and discussions do not reflect those views. Our content is all about the collective voice our membership.  So,  if you are a Baby Boomer and you are ready to independently voice your own opinion, and not your party or group’s opinion, then please come join us.