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Internet news is driving us apart, not bringing us together

24 July 2013

Congratulations to Kate and William, and Baby Cambridge, who has an extensive Wikipedia entry already but no name. The poor couple faced the cameras yesterday with good grace, which is the last thing you’d want in their situation; after my wife’s last labour was over I looked like one of the crew from Das Boot and I’d barely done anything.

Not everyone is so keen to join in, which is why The Guardian has been offering readers the chance to switch off all coverage of royalty with a ‘republican’ button. It’s an interesting foretaste of newspapers tailoring news and comment towards an individual’s own interests. Facebook and Google already use filter bubbles, so that news feeds ‘edit out’ the updates of people whose links you’re less likely to click on, in my case those Leftie friends’ posts about 38 degrees. They become like just a vague whisper of Thought for the Day on a radio turned down: you can sort of tell by the sanctimonious tone that your mate is having a go at the Tories about something, but only vaguely.


Newspapers have always focused on news and comment that appeals to the readers’ prejudices, but online news services can target their customers a lot more accurately. Reading that our prejudices are correct gives us a little dopamine hit, so a site that delivers that service has an advantage. The internet offers news designed towards self-actualisation, just like any other form of consumerism, and this explains why people get increasingly angry at the BBC, which can’t do all those things; Republicans are furious at the Beeb’s tone only because they’re so used to hearing news that confirms their views rather than being exposed to others.

Perhaps in future BBC current affairs programmes will have little interactive red buttons that tell the news differently depending on prejudice. Having perverse tastes, I’d like a setting where the news was told in deadpan PC cant; the more reality ridiculously contradicted the theory, the more over the top it would become.

But I can’t help but think this isn’t going to make our world a better place. Political polarisation is not a good thing, either for the individual or society, and the unfailing rule of politics is that the more one knows about a subject, the more one doubts things. Maybe the internet won’t actually bring us together, as part of Peter Singer’s expanding circle. Printing triggered a century of religious hatred and violence as people on both sides whipped themselves into a frenzy in print, and it could happen again. Maybe we’re all just better off looking at porn instead.

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  • Angry Harry

    “The most interesting person whom I ever come across on the internet is me.”

    Discuss. Analyse. Conclude.


    There is much to be said for the notion that we roam around the internet in search of ourselves.

    • pearlsandoysters

      To search for oneself, one should know thyself, which is a truly rare thing.

  • stanedeid

    The unionist sycophancy of the London media is certainly helping the independence movement in Scotland.

    • Keith D

      It wont help it enough.Unfathomably,apart from the localised Scottish Parliament elections,most will still vote for the ar.ehole in the red rosette.

  • Troika21

    It’s not just people seeking news on the internet, its the creators as well. My experience has been that Leftist sites have the most restrictive commenting polices.

    No classism, no racism etc. And of course, we decide what these could possibly be, so if you want to comment you better agree with us.

  • AndyB

    I think you’re wrong Ed, with great respect. Dan Hodges and Mary Riddell in the Torygraph being a case in point. Fox news, tad republican, was running blanket coverage of the royal birth that would have embarrassed the BBC. I think the racing up your own posteria option has long been seen as not a lucrative media strategy. A lucrative union-baron strategy, yes, but that’s a different discussion :-)

  • dalai guevara

    Right, Messieur West. I gather it will come as a shock to many readers of this blog that the reason for the wait in declaring the baby name is not that the parents had not yet decided, grandmother had not yet added her tuppence worth, the Privy Council lot had not had the final word.

    The reason why we not yet know publicly the name of the baby is simply because the PR machine has not yet found the right way to break it to the bubble denizens that in honour of a changing demographic, the baby will be named Mohammed I.

    (has this comment passed your personal Specie settings?)

    • HookesLaw


      • dalai guevara

        Relax, just because (after writing) his name is now indeed confirmed George, it does not mean he will reign as George.
        Alexandrina = Victoria
        Albert = Edward VI
        George = how on earth would you know?

  • post_x_it

    I hadn’t heard of 38 Degrees before. I’ve just looked it up. Thanks for ruining my evening, Ed.
    I think I may have accidentally proven your point.

  • Magnolia

    The focus on internet ‘customer’ choices can have a sinister side as well.
    Web companies are trying to compartmentalise us for commercial use while stating that they are doing it in the name of linking us with the like minded.
    I’ve complained here about the retrospective loss of voting anonymity, following changes to Disqus, which is part of their drive to create and make ‘super-communities’.
    I have been thus labeled by my own voting record.
    There will be untoward side effects.
    Only the show offs will be left to take part and the gentler souls will retreat to the blank wall.

    • ArchiePonsonby

      Point taken, but surely as you’re anonymous, do you care?

    • pearlsandoysters

      I guess that “more choice” is a code word for something along the lines “we’ll relive you from the necessity to make one”, which plain wrong. All these preferences and so on serve to create self-sufficient bubbles and diminish the capacities to be critically engaged with reality and questions worth discussing, thus breeding ignorance and intolerance.

      • Magnolia

        Quite right. I feel sorry for the poor fools who cannot see how it’s going to end up. It’ll be like the bankers all over again except this time with tech companies. Even the outspoken commenters here don’t seem to realise that they have now been marked, coded and placed in a pigeon hole by clever young tech things in another world.
        Over the top we go lads, over the top.

        • pearlsandoysters

          What amazes me is the guys who are actually in charge of all this tech merry-go-round. The aspiring young whizz kids I personally have known are so full of arrogance and contempt to us mere mortals, who don’t have a wealth of tech know how. The thing is that these sometimes affable members of high tech brigade consider themselves “superior” due to their ability to code and decode; they are also under dangerous delusion about what is human nature as such and about their own nature. By the very virtue of their pursuits they tend to assume that they are somehow immune to passions so typical of all humans, yet scratch the surface and beneath the veneer of tech aloofness there is the whole lot of pent up feelings and simmering passions, to say nothing about personal flaws. I guess that the real danger is that the tech people rarely develop category of non-tech human judgement that involves all sorts of ethical dilemmas and reasoning that is human, non technical. Pretty often for them there are no doubts just desirable outcomes. In short, it seems that they tend to deny human agency, bypass the freedom of choice and relegate many human goods to oblivion for the sake of self-aggrandizement.

  • Noa

    From a journalist’s viewpoint it will require them to identify and target specific ”market segments’.
    e.g. James Delingpole for the ‘Eco-loon sceptic lobby, Daniel Hannan for the anti-EU volk, Rod Liddle for the cat-huntin’ smokin’ and drinking fraternity, Alex Massie for the hand wringing, post Presbyterian misers, Boris Johnson for the ‘undecided’ London voter community.
    Ed West? Oh well, the Das Boot watchers like me at last have our own hero. Dive , dive dive!

  • Colonel Mustard

    Hear that Cameron, internet news is driving us apart – and probably corroding childhood.

    Better censor it all. Quick, get Claire Perry the unelected Guardian of Morality to lead beyond her authority and lecture us fully grown adults about what news we can and can’t look at. Set up the surveillance mechanisms to ensure that any people reading inappropriate news (or joining UKIP) can’t adopt children.

    “Sweep it all away”, Mr Uber “The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian” Nannyman, “sweep it all away”…

    • Tim Reed

      I wouldn’t mind an ‘opt in’ solution for the BBC.

    • HookesLaw

      You are increasingly divorced from reality. Because in reality nothing is being censored that is not already illegal. Put your hysteria back in its suitcase.

      Meanwhile back to the point of the article – I do not think the web is different to the print media – people read and have always read what boosts their prejudice.
      The web is just wider these days and nutjobs find it easier to congregate together to shut out the real world.

      • Tim Reed

        “…nutjobs find it easier to congregate together to shut out the real world.”

        Sounds like LibLabCon at Westminster.

        • HookesLaw

          By pretending the political parties are the same you demonstrate how shut in you are.

          • Keith D

            Sorry but theres not a rizla’s width of difference between any of them.There may be cosmetic differences which are sold to the electorate as real choices.But a soft scratch at the surface reveals exactly the same wishy washy, politically correct fundamental disconnect with the British people.

      • sarahsmith232

        typical easily led Leftie. the writer used the word prejudice so you unthinkingly follow on behind.
        one problem – it’s clap-trap. people aren’t attracted to publications that reflect their prejudice it’s the ones that reflect their experiences and observations. prejudice is a view that has no basis, that is invalid because it’s held by people with no connection to the people/group they have an opinion about. a bit like you, you have a prejudiced via on, oh, let me guess right-wing Daily Mail readers for e.g. you don’t know any but are convinced that your opinion is correct. that’s prejudice. people have opinions based on their observation and experience though, they are not formed by nothing. so they aren’t baseless, so not prejudice. so incorrect use of a word

        • HookesLaw

          Whose a leftie? You are reading into things what your prejudice tells you.

          If people were objective there would be no such thing as socialism and no Guardian readers. People read the Guardian for instance because they want to believe in global warming and relish using it as an excuse to pursue their socialist prejudice. They have no interest in objective analysis they do not have the wits to understand and indeed close their minds to it.

          The old fashioned press is no different from the internet.

      • Colonel Mustard

        “You are increasingly divorced from reality.”

        I wish I was. But it is easier to scoff at me than to slow the incremental march of the state into every part of our lives. Cameron has absolutely reneged on the Coalition programme for government as it relates to civil liberties. Check it for yourself. But he has not just reneged. He has actively pursued further assaults on our freedom, from the Snoopers Charter to the latest Claire Perry/Daily Mail sponsored nonsense (and it is nonsense). And no-one in the media has called him out on it.

        Corroding childhood? Virtually every advertisement on TV tonight was doing that.

        Go on, read it for yourself and tell me which parts of the Coalition civil liberties programme he has even initiated let alone delivered.

        • HookesLaw

          TV adverts?
          Don’t be silly

          The govt have for instance scrapped ID card proposal and scrapped labours retention of DNA proposals and I think they have prevented councils from abusing anti terror laws.

          There is no snoopers charter.
          Broadly speaking our civil liberties are not under attack and despite words like censorship and snooping your free to browse whatever legal web sites you chose and say what you want on them and the govt have no proposals to snoop on you whilst you do it.

          If you do something illegal then you must expect the police to serve legal warrants to search you your property and your records.

      • reb1rth

        Pirate bay? Nothing illegal about an indexing search engine, but if it harms the big fat corporations then you are told it is. Meanwhile, our government have been illegally hacking into the fibre-optic network and monitoring the entire country, whilst Cameron demands censorship disguised as care. Yes, the country is filled with nutjobs and it has been a pleasure responding to them.

    • sarahsmith232

      great post, what happened to the Libertarian Right, it’s disappeared without trace. it takes the foaming at the mouths 80something//90somethings to remind everyone that liberty and freedom were hard fought for and shouldn’t be so lightly thrown away. but they’re all dying out, there doesn’t seem to be any left still standing.
      really, I think it’s laughable that anyone in this society thinks we can still claim to be a free democracy any more. can’t speak freely, illegal to be mildly offensive, heavily regulated un-free media, vote incorrectly and you’ll find you’re no longer free to adopt, the Left has the constituency boundaries stitched up in their favour so we now can’t even vote democratically! and what are the Tories doing about it? didely-f***ing-squat. Cameron is a card carrying nanny-stater himself.
      to the Libertarian Right – may you R.I.P.

    • Angry Harry

      Some UK mobile operators such as O2 already block sites for political reasons.

      • Colonel Mustard

        I didn’t know that but it doesn’t surprise me.

  • Keith D

    Trouble is Ed that the Beeb has a long history of promoting Leftist propoganda and with the advent of the internet,its been caught.As it has more recently with its Islamophiliac agenda.It’s still useful for Wimbledon once a year though.

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