Some folks wait till the last moment to decide how to vote. And when indifference was the mental state right before the decision, we can’t help but wonder what moved the person from indecision to selection. A coin toss?
Or something more insidious?
This kind of worry lies behind a mini-controversy over a CNN News feature. For the 2008 presidential campaign CNN gathered 32 undecided voters and gave them knobs to turn as they listened to candidates’ speeches. Turn the knob one way for approval, the opposite for disapproval. A computer averaged out the responses, and graphed them in real time underneath the TV image of the candidate speaking.
Such graphic elements of newscasts have been called “worms.”
Psychologists have studied this sort of thing, and suspect that the mere presentation of this average approval rating amounts to “spin.”
And, as such, constitutes undue influence of a small group, perhaps easily manipulable, over a large group of voters.
British psychologists studying CNN-like worms say they accumulated data of measurable signs of influence. “The responses of a small group of individuals could, via the worm, influence millions of voters,” the scientists write. They also declare this effect “not conducive to a healthy democracy.”
Yes, yes, but “peer pressure” has been a known element of democracy for some time.
Only the worms are new.
And, in their context, they provide more information. As with speech we may not like, more and different worm varieties (on different networks, perhaps) is undoubtedly the best response.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.