Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Are "Undecided Voters" at Risk of 'Information Fatigue'?

A few weeks ago, I came across an old article published by Newsweek in February of 2011 which discusses scientific research on the effects of information overload on people as they come to make decisions. The article entitled "The Twitterization of our culture has revolutionized our lives, but with an unintended consequence—our overloaded brains freeze when we have to make decisions" sheds light on the possible consequences of today's overwhelming flow of information on citizens' ability to make smart, well-thought out decisions. 

I found this rather interesting as we are approaching Election day. I do not attempt to undermine the valuable importance of social media and its revolutionary role in promoting access to information. However, I am only pondering on how, and whether excess information circulated on the web would, hinder the ability of 'undecided voters' to make rational decisions come Election day. Over the past few months we have seen a considerable increase of information-sharing on social networks on issues directly related to the presidential campaigns. For decided voters, it may be rather easier to navigate through the tweets, texts, posts, articles and opinions shared on the internet. Where as for undecided voters, or even less tech-savvy voters, it might cause what Sharon Begley describes in her article as 'info-paralysis'. She explains, "[T]he booming science of decision making has shown that more information can lead to objectively poorer choices, and to choices that people come to regret. It has shown that an unconscious system guides many of our decisions, and that it can be sidelined by too much information." 

This is quite important considering the numbers recently posted by the ABC/Washington Post poll (published on September 17). According to the polls, the percentage of these 'undecided voters' is 6% - with 50% Obama supporters and 44% Romney supporters. Previous elections indicate that decided voters, or those who have already chosen their affiliation, will less likely change their minds on polling day. It is those who remain undecided in the weeks prior to November 6 who will have the biggest influence on the final results. While these polls are subject to change, a week old, and might not be as representative, however, they still show the magnitude of influence the undecided voters will have on determining which of the two main candidates will eventually win. Will they make informed decisions? Have they absorbed 'too much' information? Will the 'info-paralysis' lead them to making poor decision when casting their votes?
As discussed in class, obtaining information via social networks requires an advanced level of media literacy in order to filter factual and reliable information from all other sorts of data. The massive scale of data being uploaded and shared on media websites has grown tremendously in the past few years. This explosion of information has resulted in the creation of new sites or applications which aim to organize data and help users determine the 'quality' of information they are pursuing in any specific field - commonly referred to as content curation tools such as Pinterest, Flipboard, TweetDeck, and RebelMouse. These tools are used to categorize data and present it to users in an easy-to-navigate style. I am mentioning this as I am increasingly becoming convinced that next presidential elections will be shaped by content curation tools. This could be the next logical move that helps voters and campaigners in managing the flow of information. Here is an interesting blog post I found posted earlier in June which takes this idea further and shows the benefits behind content curation tools for political campaigning: "4 Ways Content Curation Could Influence the Presidential Election". 

1 comment:

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