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The effect of Internet use on political information exposure is investigated using representative survey data from Japan and the USA. Internet users can simply choose political information that is consistent with their political attitudes. This selectivity in information exposure via the Internet might have serious consequences on the democratic social system, such as fragmentation of shared information and a decrease in political tolerance. Three research questions were empirically investigated as to the presence of selective exposure in political web browsing, the effect of political web browsing on political tolerance, and the contingencies on which selective exposure occurs. Multivariate quantitative analyses show that web browsing, as a form of Internet use for seeking political information, facilitates exposure to arguments that are consistent with one's attitudes. However, selective avoidance, which suppresses exposure to heterogeneous arguments, is not empirically supported. Moreover, although Internet use as a source of information facilitates exposure to homogeneous arguments under certain conditions, it does not have a negative effect on political tolerance. This is because selective exposure to homogeneous arguments takes place if and only if the perceived issue's importance is high. That is, even if selective exposure has an effect on a few issues perceived as highly important, there is no such bias in other less-important issues, which attenuates the effect of selective exposure on the homogeneity of the information environment surrounding each person. It is concluded that the fear of a fragmented society due to selectivity in using the Internet seems to be empirically groundless.
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Keywords: Internet use; cyber-balkanization; information environment; political tolerance; selective exposure

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Information and Society Research Division, National Institution of Informatics, Tokyo, Japan 2: Department of Social Psychology, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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