Here’s an interesting article I stumbled across today:
(CNN) — From the micro-donation platform first popularized by Howard Dean in 2003 to the million-strong Barack Obama Facebook page to the huge audience of the Huffington Post, liberals have been the dominant political force on the internet since the digital revolution began.
Now, research out of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society suggests that the reason behind this imbalance may be the liberal belief system itself.
Liberals, the research finds, are oriented toward community activism, employing technology to encourage debate and feature user-generated content. Conservatives, on the other hand, are more comfortable with a commanding leadership and use restrictive policies to combat disorderly speech in online forums.
All of this suggests that the internet may benefit liberals more often than conservatives — at least for now.
Gregory Ferenstein, who wrote the article for CNN.com, goes on to compare The Huffington Post (liberal) blog to Hot Air (conservative). Both are the most popular sites for their target demographics, but the Post’s audience absolutely dwarfs that of Hot Air:
A leading right-wing blog, Hot Air was founded by Michelle Malkin, an author who is known for her support of wartime loyalty oaths and racial profiling as a defense against terrorism. In criticizing Obama’s 2009 address to the United Nations, she said, “he solidified his place in the international view as the great appeaser and the groveler in chief.”
Indeed, Malkin’s hard-line national security views are matched by Hotair’s unusually restrictive comment policy. The site permits comments only by registered users; currently, registration is closed to any new users. The site states, “We may allow as much or as little opportunity for registration as we choose, in our absolute discretion, and we may close particular comment threads or discontinue our general policy of allowing comments at any time.”
By contrast, the left-leaning Huffington Post, the most visited blog on the Internet, has thousands of bloggers and invites active users to become featured authors and comment facilitators.
This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. How many Conservative blogs can you think of that have ridiculously restrictive commenting policies? If you show up and voice a Liberal opinion you’re lucky if it ever gets out of the moderation queue, assuming you can even leave a comment without registering and waiting to be approved beforehand. Now how many Liberal blogs do you know that have a similar policy?
I can’t speak for all Liberal blogs, obviously, but part of the reason I set up SEB was to get my liberal ideas out there where they could potentially change minds and where they could be refined by criticism. I’m willing to have my ideas challenged and I have been known to change my mind after a good debate on a topic. The few Conservative blogs I check in on from time to time seem to want nothing more for their ideas to be accepted without criticism by the people following them.
Of course that’s just my subjective personal experience which is why it’s nice to see someone doing some research to see if it’s true:
Harvard professor Yochai Benkler finds that these differences are representative of the broader political web.
“The left not only chooses more participatory technology, but also uses the available technological tools to maintain more fluid relations between secondary or user-contributed materials and those of primary contributors,” he writes. “The left is more egalitarian in opportunities for speech, more discursive, and more collaborative in managing the sites.”
By contrast, Hot Air’s prohibitive policies, and Malkin’s support of strong leadership, seem consistent with Benkler’s conclusion that the right is more “hierarchical” in its approach.
[…] Republicans tend to see a “limited participatory role” for citizens, Dalton writes in his book “The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation Is Reshaping American Politics.”
One of the things that always amuses me when Conservatives criticize Liberals is how often they accuse us of doing what they tend to do themselves. We’re trying to “restrict freedoms” and “dictate to others” and “force things down the American public’s throats” which is all stuff the Conservatives like to do.
Take the Public Option that used to be in the Health Care Reform package that was passed awhile back. Conservatives accused the Obama administration of a “government takeover of healthcare” when what was being offered was the freedom to choose something other than a private insurance company driven by profits. There was nothing in the legislation that said the private companies couldn’t go on offering insurance. It wasn’t the fabled “single payer system” the Republicans kept trying to claim it was. Didn’t matter, it was an unAmerican thing, as far as the Conservatives were concerned, to offer a government backed plan that would provide coverage to everyone who needed it. What could be more egalitarian than providing health care to everyone? Who didn’t want that kind of freedom and fairness? The Conservatives.
The article goes on to point out that the surprise victory of Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate Race happened in part because Brown pretty much emulated everything Obama did on the Web. While that worked once, it goes on to say that it’s unlikely that Conservatives will suddenly adopt that approach:
The conservative philosophy of ironclad loyalty to a singular message does have decided advantages. In Congress, strong party loyalty has allowed Republicans to vote as a bloc, giving them formidable strength despite their minority status.
However, the internet is less predictable. And, from what we have observed from the short life of the web, opening one’s site to the capricious innovations of grass-roots users can be enormously beneficial but hard to control.
Conservatives may one day embrace the participatory web en masse. However, the very structure of the internet as a decentralized grouping of communities may never appeal to the large portion of right-wingers who prefer military-style hierarchies and commanding leaders.
And, as years go by without a conservative social-media pioneer or a top-ranked website, it looks as though the internet has already chosen a side.
In short, the web benefits Liberals more than Conservatives because the web is Liberal by its very nature and just look how successful that approach has been for it. Had it been more Conservative in nature I doubt it would ever have been the phenomena it has turned out to be.
At the very least you can be damn sure that a site like SEB would never have been allowed on a Conservative internet.