It's another spin of the same wheel. Oliver Kamm sets out his view on the all-round negative effects of political blogging in today's Guardian. As I said in my previous discussion of his arguments, I agree with him that much of what passes for political exchange in the blogosphere - a term I for my part have no trouble with - doesn't encourage the careful weighing of opposing viewpoints (see also here). Still, I remain puzzled by three features of Oliver's argument.
First, he says that political blogs narrow the range of available opinion in the public sphere. But he provides no evidence for this, and that is a serious shortcoming given the stringency of his critique of the standards of argument common amongst bloggers. Instead of evidence, Oliver offers a wholly general consideration in support of how he thinks this narrowing of the range of opinion takes place. Readers, he suggests, are able to 'select minutely the material they are exposed to' and to 'filter out views they find uncongenial'. But again, where is the evidence that readers are more inclined to do this on the internet than they are in the selection of what newspaper(s) they read, or in other ways? It is an unsupported assertion.
Second, Oliver writes that blogs are 'purely parasitic'. Yes, true, they depend on the press and other media, but this in itself is presumably not an offence against democratic debate. So do other ordinary, non-blogger citizens depend on these same sources. There seems no reason special to bloggers why they should be disqualified from discussing what has come to them via the media. Perhaps something of what they say will be worth paying attention to, even if some or much of it is also not. Oliver says:
If, say, Polly Toynbee or Nick Cohen did not exist, a significant part of the blogosphere (a grimly pretentious neologism) would have no purpose and nothing to react to.The choice of Nick Cohen is perhaps not the best one here, since Nick himself is on record as having drawn, as journalist and writer, on his reading of blogs.
Third, Oliver says about blogging: 'You need no competence to join in.' Well, so you don't. Neither do you, to join in political discussion at a public meeting. There will be few people who haven't ever had to sit through some of the less enjoyable consequences of this fact. But the medium doesn't forbid competence either, and I know that Oliver knows this, partly because he continues to blog himself, and partly because of an email he sent me responding to a query I put to him on this very matter a few days ago. I don't betray any confidence in saying that it's a reasonable inference from Oliver's reply that he doesn't think blogging incompetence is universal.
From all of which I conclude that Oliver wrongly generalizes from one of the regrettable features of blogospheric debate to a damning of the medium as a whole.