Indian freelance journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary brings to our attention a set of articles published in the Hindustan Times (1 and 2) and the BBC about the work that he and Microsoft designer Bill Thies (who recently gave a talk at our group) did to establish a grassroots news network in Chhattisgarh, India. Based on an audio wiki technology developed by Thies and Saman Amarasinghe at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the system is named CGNet Swara (Chhattisgarh Net Voice), which enables trained amateur volunteer journalists to phone in their reports to a central number where moderators then record and check the reports for accuracy. Once approved, the report is sent via text message to everyone on the news service's contact list, and they can subsequently phone in to hear the story at normal phone charge, which is less than five rupees (10 US cents).
Derek Thompson at The Atlantic Online reports on his blog that a new NBER paper suggests that online news consumption is much less ideologically segregating than face-to-face interactions, but more segregating than offline news consumption. The abstract of the paper states:
"We use individual and aggregate data to ask how the Internet is changing the ideological segregation of the American electorate. Focusing on online news consumption, offline news consumption, and face-to-face social interactions, we define ideological segregation in each domain using standard indices from the literature on racial segregation. We find that ideological segregation of online news consumption is low in absolute terms, higher than the segregation of most offline news consumption, and significantly lower than the segregation of face-to-face interactions with neighbors, co-workers, or family members. We find no evidence that the Internet is becoming more segregated over time."
Thompson, however, views the results in more pessimistic terms:
David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, cites recent research that may mitigate concerns expressed by Cass Sunstein and others about the potential of the internet to increase ideological segregation. A study by researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business compares online segregation to segregation of both traditional media and face to face interactions. They find that:
"[A] significant share of consumers get news from multiple outlets. This is especially true for visitors to small sites such as blogs and aggregators. Visitors of extreme conservative sites such as rushlimbaugh.com and glennbeck.com are more likely than a typical online news reader to have visited nytimes.com. Visitors of extreme liberal sites such as thinkprogress.org and moveon.org are more likely than a typical online news reader to have visited foxnews.com."
News consumers with extremely narrow exposure are in fact very rare:
"A consumer who got news exclusively from nytimes.com would have a more liberal news diet than 95 percent of Internet news users, and a consumer who got news exclusively from foxnews.com would have a more conservative news diet than 99 percent of Internet news users."
Overall, they conclude that:
Lowell Feld, a blogger at Blue Virginia and author of the book Netroots Rising, sends the link to an article written by Evgeny Morozov in Foreign Policy Magazine that attempts to dispel the "myths" that the Internet promotes freedom, political activism, and perpetual peace. Lowell does not take a position either way but finds the article relevant to the larger debate about liberation technologies. The purported myths listed by Morozov are the following: