Re: ELECTION: problems/solutions

Date: Mon Nov 13 2000 - 18:21:04 MST

Brian Williams writes:
> From:
> >Isn't the notion of the "media" becoming obsolete in this day of
> >user to user communications? I don't think we can usefully
> >distinguish between the media and ordinary people, when anyone can
> >publish and share his observations via the Internet.
> The Internet is not primarily a broadcast media.

Well, one use of the Internet is for publishing web pages, which is
akin to broadcasting. Presumably your ban would need to apply to web
publishers in addition to TV, right?

An interesting example in the recent election was Matt Drudge,
whose site published the early exit poll results,
contravening the stated policy of the consortium which conducted the
polls, Voter News Service. He may still get sued for this, we'll see.
Would you muzzle Matt Drudge? Is he merely an influential individual,
or does he count as a broadcaster? How to decide? What happens as
others become successful publishing their own opinions?

I don't see how you can draw a meaningful line between individuals and
the media, given that there are a number of influential individuals
(and you can bet that more such personal sites would spring up if you
did succeed in quashing media discussion). Then there are discussion
groups like alt.politics (which is actually where I found Drudge's
reports, his site was overloaded all day), chat rooms and a host of
other communication options.

Face it, the future is moving towards increased information flow.
Any proposal to limit political discussion is a non-starter, IMO.

> >Ultimately the question is whether to try to limit the flow of
> >information. It's true that people's behavior may change if they
> >know more about what is going on, including how people are voting
> >during the course of election day. But IMO we have to accept this
> >kind of change.
> It's trying to limit the negative effect of information during
> voting hours only. Can you suggest a positive use for this flow?
> During the voting hours only?

I don't think the burden of proof ought to be on someone justifying
a positive use for people being able to communicate with each other.
Rather, you need to show that there is very significant harm in allowing
them to do so, in order to justify muzzling their natural ability to

Why should we restrict people from learning how others are voting?
What is the harm?

If it really were so harmful, shouldn't we disallow pre-election polling?
That gives people an idea about how others should vote. Granted it is
not as accurate, but as we have seen, same-day reports are not always
100% accurate either (Drudge had Florida going overwhelmingly for Gore,
which is why the networks called it 15 minutes after most but not all
of the polls closed).

Even if such information influences votes, don't people have the right
to use whatever information they choose in making decisions? What gives
us the omniscience to say that the world would be a better place if each
person were to decide without any information about what others are doing?

There is plenty of experimental and theoretical reason to think that
giving people the maximum of information will help them. Take the famous
Delphi system, in which experts are polled, and then given feedback about
what other experts said in order to revise their estimates. The feedback
is said to greatly improve accuracy. Or look at the theoretical results
in which social information institutions evolve to be trustworthy so that
average individuals don't have to be experts on everything in order to
still make decent decisions. People implicitly rely on the judgement
of their fellows being roughly accurate most of the time.

It seems to me to be contrary to the principle of respect for individual
autonomy to try to put a ban like this into place. Better to let people
decide for themselves what information they want to use.


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