Polarization 2.0: Democracy and Extremism in the Age of Digital Media

Posted by University of Pennsylvania on August 31, 2015

Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism

DCC Presents the Opening Event for our 2015-16 Theme Year on Digital Media and the Future(s) of Democracy

Polarization 2.0: Democracy and Extremism in the Age of Digital Media

Cass Sunstein
Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard Law School / Coauthor of Nudge and Wiser and author of Republic[dot]com 2.0 and Going to Extremes

Moderated by Jeffrey Rosen
National Constitution Center President and CEO

Tuesday, September 8 / 6:30 pm
National Constitution Center
535 Arch Street, F.M. Kirby Auditorium

Please register for this event here.


Co-sponsors: National Constitution Center and the Annenberg School for Communication.

GROUP DELIBERATION, THE ACT OF ARGUING ABOUT and chewing over the best options for addressing collective challenges, plays a vital role in any functioning democracy. The commonly held belief – and longstanding hope – is that deliberation helps a diverse citizenry work toward consensus, if not always around the ideas most worthy on their merit, at least around compromise positions that enable cooperation. Sunstein argues, however, that the opposite outcome results when like-minded citizens deliberate among themselves. In this case, rather than converging toward the middle, the opinions of individuals within the group move toward a more extreme point in the direction of their prior like-mindedness. Group polarization, in other words, breeds extremism. To the extent that people can shield themselves from those who hold differing opinions, as they increasingly can in the ideological echo-chambers of the Internet and social media, this presents a challenge to an open and heterogeneous democracy. Sunstein will explore the implications of this for the practice of free speech and the viability of American politics.

“For citizens of a heterogeneous democracy, a fragmented communications market creates a considerable number of dangers. There are dangers for each of us as individuals; constant exposure to one set of views is likely to lead to errors and confusions, sometimes as a result of cybercascades. And to the extent that the process entrenches existing views, spreads falsehood, promotes extremism, and makes people less able to work cooperatively on shared problems, there are dangers for society as a whole.” – From Republic[dot]com 2.0

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