Deliberation, Internet and Extremism

Friday 2 April 2004, by Cass Sunstein

Thèmes : démocratie | Medias et communication

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Every society contains innumerable deliberating groups. Political parties, church groups, dissident organizations, legislative bodies, regulatory commissions, courts, faculties, student organizations, those participating in talk radio programs, Internet discussion groups, and others engage in deliberation. It is a simple social fact that sometimes people enter discussions with one view and leave with another, even on political and moral questions. Emphasizing this fact, many recent observers have embraced the aspiration to “deliberative democracy,” an ideal that is designed to combine popular responsiveness with a high degree of reflection and exchange among people with competing views. But for the most part, the resulting literature has not been empirically informed. It has not much dealt with the real-world consequences of deliberation, and with what generalizations hold in actual deliberative settings, with groups of different predispositions and compositions.

My principal purpose is to investigate a striking but largely neglected statistical regularity – that of group polarization — and to relate this phenomenon to underlying questions about the role of deliberation in the “public sphere” of a heterogeneous democracy. In brief, group polarization means that members of a deliberating group typically move toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by the members’ predeliberation tendencies. When like-minded people meet regularly, without sustained exposure to competing views, extreme movements are all the more likely. This point illuminates many topics, including the sources of ethnic, racial, and cross-national antagonism; the well-springs of terrorism; the effects of political deliberation; the ambiguous results of freedom of association; and the consequences of new communications technologies, including the Internet. An understanding of group polarization also raises several problems for democratic theory. It suggests that serious risks — of misunderstanding, fragmentation, and even violence — will arise when citizens sort themselves into like-minded groups.

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Référence : Une traduction de cet article a été réalisée par Solange Chavel pour Raison publique, n°2, avril 2004, pp. 11-29.

by Cass Sunstein

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