Reading the Blogosphere from Left to Right

Last March, Berkman Faculty Codirector Yochai Benkler and Berkeley Sociology Professor Aaron Shaw published a paper dissecting the differences in blogging practices between left- and right-wing bloggers. After choosing 155 of the most-read American political blogs, they analyzed their organization, participants, content, and technology.

Several findings indicated that left and right blogs could be differentiated by virtue of political leaning alone. For example, conservative blogs usually provided fewer user blogs and solicited less reader participation. More than twice as many liberal blogs than conservative blogs used enhanced platforms to publish their content. The left wing of the blogosphere pushed harder for mobilization and organization for action.

So why do blogging practices and habits differ depending on the political leaning of the blogger? Benkler and Shaw mention several possibilities. One suggests that individuals tie their political beliefs to personal characteristics. Not only that, their research was also consistent with previous ideas that people form beliefs and opinions to mold their political and cultural values based on—and sometimes regardless of—objective facts and circumstances. Based on the four combinations of belief “structures,” blogs are the right are more likely to be individualistic and hierarchical, while left-leaning sites were more likely to be communitarian and egalitarian.

Another reason that they provide has to do with when the blogosphere became an Internet phenomenon. Around 2002 to 2004, the time when blogging platforms were just developing and gaining usage, the federal government was dominated by the political right, who built a large presence in public sphere. In the meantime, the left was left (no pun intended) in the cold by an administration hostile to it, and therefore used the blogosphere as an opportunity to engage with each other and even mobilize. What we can take away from this suggestion is that blogging practices in political blogs can be traced back to their ancestors a mere decade ago.

Regardless of slant, readers of blogs rarely went “deeper” than a few clicks on the sites they visited. The data showed that visitors preferred reading easily accessible information than digging around for it, absorbing what they could immediately identify on most blogs. According to this finding, perhaps both the left and the right should be brainstorming ways to draw attention to keep their fickle readers coming back for more.