The U.S. election is going to be extremely close and is further evidence to support Cass Sunstein's thesis in Republic.com that the Internet is creating the cyberbalkanization (or in this case cyberpolarization since there are only two main parties) of society. Cass Sunstein's theory states that people sort themselves into digital deliberative enclaves with those who share the same viewpoints with the result that the group arrives at a more extreme conclusion than the majority of its members each held individually prior to joining the group. As a result, even Osama Bin Laden's inflammatory tape seems to be having little or no effect on the mood of the electorate. Republicans are of course taking the view that it helps their candidate: 1) it highlights the need to pursue an aggressive stance against the terrorist barbarians and 2) since Osama mocked Bush's apparent paralysis in the Florida elementary school class on hearing of the attacks on Sept. 11, the tape puts those who mock Bush at home (Kerry, Moore etc.) in the same league as Osama. Democrats are of course taking the view that the tape helps Kerry: 1) it reminds the electorate of the fact that Osama has not yet been captured, which is due, they say, to Bush taking his focus off of Afghanistan and Pakistan and putting it on Iraq, and 2) although Osama mocked Bush, he didn't actually go so far as to endorse Kerry, and therefore Kerry would still have credibility as Commander-in-Chief. IMHO, the tape clearly should put Bush in a better position because of the backlash against the spectacle of a foreign foe mocking the nation's president. Imagine if this happened in the pre-Internet world. Suppose that on Sept. 11, 1971, Al Queda destroyed the Statue of Liberty and subsequently sent a tape to the press in which Osama made fun of Richard Nixon shortly before the national election. Do you think that anyone would seriously suggest or believe at the time that this tape would support his opponent in the election? In 2004, U.S. society is so polarized by digital deliberative enclaves that the electorate seems to be largely unaffected by such an inflammatory tape.
What is the answer to this problem? I think it is replacing these digital deliberative enclaves (electronic chat groups, meet-up etc.) with virtual worlds where the geography is more like that of the real world with all of its public squares and other spaces in which people of different viewpoints can serendipitously collide and in doing so rub some of the rough edges off the other's extreme positions, and thereby produce consensus instead of polarization. Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Games can be the first wave in this transformation if we treat the freedom of speech issues in them properly. We'll know that this transformation is seriously overdue if one day a foreign foe actually endorses one of the candidates a few days before the election, and that candidate's supporters remain convinced that such an endorsement does not adversely affect his (or her) chances.