Shaw, Aaron and Benkler, Yochai. 2012. A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on Left and Right. American Behavioral Scientist,
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Working Paper Abstract
Discussions of the political effects of the Internet and networked discourse tend to presume consistent patterns of technological adoption and use within a given society. Consistent with this assumption, previous empirical studies of the United States political blogosphere have found evidence that the left and right are relatively symmetric in terms of various forms of linking behavior despite their ideological polarization (Hargittai, Gallo & Kane, 2008; Hindman, 2008; Adamic & Glance, 2005).
Link-based network visualization of the U.S. political blogosphere from Adamic & Glance (2005)
In this paper, we revisit these findings by comparing the practices of discursive production and participation among top U.S. political blogs on the left, right, and center during Summer, 2008. Based on qualitative coding of the top 155 political blogs, our results reveal significant cross-ideological variations along several important dimensions. Notably, we find evidence of an association between ideological affiliation and the technologies, institutions, and practices of participation across political blogs. Sites on the left adopt more participatory technical platforms; are comprised of significantly fewer sole-authored sites; include user blogs; maintain more fluid boundaries between secondary and primary content; include longer narrative and discussion posts; and (among the top half of the blogs in our sample) more often use blogs as platforms for mobilization as well as discursive production.
Our findings speak to two major theoretical debates on the political effects of the Internet and networked discourse. First, the variations we observe between the left and right wings of the U.S. political blogosphere provide insights into how varied patterns of technological adoption and use within a single society may produce distinct effects on democracy and the public sphere.
Secondly, our study suggests that the prevailing techniques of domain-based link analysis used to study the political blogosphere to date may have fundamental limitations. The fact that we find evidence of significant cross-ideological variation when we compare intra-domain attributes of political blogs demonstrates that link analysis studies have obscured both the diversity of participatory affordances online as well as the primary mechanisms by which the networked public sphere alters democratic participation relative to the mass mediated public sphere.
The research for this paper was conducted while Shaw was a Research Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The authors wish to acknowledge the Directors, Fellows, and Staff of the Berkman Center for their kindness and support. We would especially like to thank Silpa Kovvali for her diligent research assistance and data collection; as well as Henry Farrell and Eszter Hargittai, both of whom provided thoughtful and constructive feedback on an earlier draft. Thanks also to John Kelly and the folks at Morningside Analytics for sharing their list of top blogs with us.