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When the internet first got kicking, some scholars of democracy and civil society thought that online discussions could create what they called a "conversational democracy”: an ongoing town hall without bricks and mortar. But the internet may not be as democratic as they'd imagined, according to a study in the journal Communication Research. ["Civil Society and Online Political Discourse: The Network Structure of Unrestricted Discussions"]
Researcher Itai Himelboim gathered eight million messages posted to 35 political and philosophical newsgroups—like alt.politics.usa—over a six-year period. And he analyzed the connections among the messages. Turns out that 50 percent of all replies were directed at just 2 percent of people who started threads, and who thus came to control the discussion. And the larger the newsgroup, the more polarized this effect became.