This project will examine the effects of internet usage in achieving democracy on political blog sites. Political blog sites of any kind have the power to shape cultural discourse and, to an extent, shape societal thoughts and actions.
A computer-mediated environment may make it easier for citizens to express their feelings about political candidates and allow them to speak more candidly than if they were in a face-to-face situation. The diversity of the internet gives citizens access to a wide variety of opinions and information that they may not have access to otherwise, and this may play a role in changing or shaping an individual’s political views. After disregarding any blog sites that have a corporate financial objective or are engaging in political agenda-setting, political blog site users can begin to discuss their personal view points with peers. If the goals of corporate owners were being filtered down to influence the ideals and norms of a society through political blog sites, the media-society relationship would be adversely affected because these opinions are based on finance and not individuals’ belief systems. Thus, political blog sites that allow anyone’s opinion are the only types of political sites researched here because sites owned by a particular candidate and/or organization are less likely to allow public commenting.
If information about certain candidates is more difficult to find than others’, this can also affect what opinions are formed by blog site viewers, and society will be affected. For example, if there are many Republican blog sites and only one or two blog sites for Democrats, coverage will be unequal. We know that traditional media strive for somewhat even political coverage, but this could be problematic on blog sites where there is no system of routines or accountability for balance.
Since we are assuming that a political blog site is not under any corporation’s control and that what we read is not simply an agenda, it can be suggested that an increased emphasis on information diversity, as opposed to profits, increases democracy. Local media cannot cover everything that is of interest to every citizen. However, the internet stretches on infinitely and not only can everything be addressed that is of interest to anyone, there can be a lot of useless information to wade through as well that may be of interest to no one.
For this analysis, a blog is defined as a web page with very minimal or no external editing, providing online commentary, periodically updated and presented in reverse chronological order, with hyperlinks to other online sources. Anyone with internet access can visit a free blog site such as www.blogger.com and set up a blog in a few minutes. This is the ideal that makes blogging in and of itself so democratic—the ease of accessibility to all citizens.
If government is seen as a necessary evil, obviously a democracy wants that government to have as little control as possible. Ideally, the press would keep this government in check, but blogging takes this one step further and provides an immediate solution to necessary system of checks and balances on our government. Blogs are watchdogs that can broadcast political news much faster than the turnaround time for traditional newspapers and television, and they can give citizens an opportunity to watch their government a little more closely and in much more detail.
The Research Addressing This Question
How do political web sites that allow interactivity in the form of comments or discussion (blog sites) increase the opportunity for participatory democracy among citizens by increasing political knowledge?
The blog movement began during the 2004 presidential campaign and definitely did challenge the supremacy of television in providing perspective to citizens. “Blogs were deemed credible because they provided the depth, analysis, and points of view that were missing from traditional sources” (Johnson, Kaye, Bichard, & Wong, 2007, p. 2). An opportunity to comment or interact with a blog site upholds the authenticity of the site and encourages democratic participation because citizens have only their own information-seeking desire to find the truth and are not seeking a profit.
In the study by Johnson et. al (2007), politically-interested Internet users were surveyed during the 2004 presidential election in an effort to examine their perceptions of blog credibility. Results indicate that,
“Politically-interested web users will judge blogs as credible sources of news and information and those politically-interested Internet users find blogs to be moderately credible sources for news and information. While internet users are increasingly flocking to blogs as a source of political news and information, the moderate scores for credibility indicate that users also realize that blogs are not the final word” (Johnson, Kaye, Bichard, & Wong, 2007, p. 14).
As expected, respondents evaluated blogs as highly credible for depth of information, while judging them as weaker on credibility for fairness of information. The researchers note that “fairness is not the primary concern for users when judging blog credibility and that the depth of information presented is a more important indicator than fairness in predicting credibility” (Johnson, Kaye, Bichard, & Wong, 2007, p. 14). The researchers went on to find that “blogs are more fair-minded than the other sources under study” which seems very surprising because all forms of traditional media were taken into account for this study and especially since blogging is so new as compared to print newspapers and television which have been relied upon for years (Johnson, Kaye, Bichard, & Wong, 2007). Studies have shown that “blogs online were judged as moderately credible, but as more credible than any mainstream media or online source” (Johnson, Kaye, Bichard, & Wong, 2007, p. 10). So by this theory, people are more trusting of potentially anonymous bloggers than they are of the newscasters they see every night in their homes. Maybe this is because citizens trust that there is less influence by corporate ownership on a blog site than there would be on Fox News, for example.
Obviously, it is impossible to deliberate with a television, radio, or newspaper, yet until the advent of internet communications, these were the only ways to access political information. However, “deliberation is beneficial for democracy because deliberation among citizens not only facilitates healthy public opinion but also forms attitudes and norms that are supportive of engagement, such as social trust and political efficacy” (Min, 2007, p.2). Also, Min found that, “since rationality is achieved mostly by linguistic exchanges, there is no reason to believe that online communication through text is inferior to face-to-face deliberation” (Min 2007, p.3).
This same study also measured the participants’ intention or willingness to participate in political affairs after deliberation. Min acknowledges that “willingness to participate in politics does not tell us whether the deliberators will actually participate in the political process” (Min, 2007, p. 12). Still, measuring intention/willingness can be useful indicator to gauge the participants’ motivations, which may then lead to political action. In other words, Min was testing to see if the media effect of deliberation will affect individuals cognitively and affectively and possibly lead to changes in political involvement. Min notes that “political efficacy is positively correlated with measures of political participation” (Min, 2007, p. 4). That is, the higher ones’ sense of efficacy, or the feeling that they are capable of influencing government, the higher ones’ level of participation.
According to research by Tan et al. (2007), “the use of a colloquial or a standard style language when communicating online via text, conveys information to others within the community about their social position, and the speakers provide these cues either consciously or semi-consciously” (Tan, Swee, Lim, Detenber, & Alsagoff, 2007, p. 4). If a blog reader sees that someone leaving a comment has a higher social or economic status than they do, they may be less likely to voice their opinion, which can lead to a Spiral of Silence. If they feel they are in the minority, they tend to remain silent on the issue. The more they remain silent, the more other people feel that their particular point of view is not represented, and the more they will remain silent. This is very problematic in a democracy because it is the responsibility of the majority to make sure that the minority view point receives equal representation.
However, in an online blogging environment, studies have shown that “computer-mediated communications and their lack of status cues can result in greater equality of participation online” which is what democracy is all about (Tan, Swee, Lim, Detenber, & Alsagoff, 2007, p. 6). Also finding that initial interactions online are characterized by high equality and low relational dominance, Tan et al. (2007) prove that the internet puts individuals on a more equal footing than they could otherwise, consciously or sub-consciously, achieve on their own, for example from a face-to-face interaction, thus eliminating this potential Spiral of Silence.
Since democracy is the outcome of social pressures, participants in the study noted that they “had a reduced perception of an audience during computer-mediated communication, as compared to someone engaging in face-to-face communication”(Tan, Swee, Lim, Detenber, & Alsagoff, 2007, p. 2). This helps to ensure that the majority and the minority present in the discussion both feel comfortable voicing their viewpoints and eliminates potential Spirals of Silence among political discussants. Many individuals do not feel comfortable speaking in front of an audience and this can activate the Spiral of Silence effect. If the minority does not feel respected, democracy will not be occurring in the online discussion.
“Deliberative democratic theorists maintain that if citizens reach more reflective political judgments, they will directly and indirectly lead the polity toward better public policy decisions” (Gastil & Dillard, 1999, p. 3). After testing the effects of brief participation in political discussion on the sophistication of individuals’ political judgments, Gastil and Dillard found that “deliberative discussions of political issues can increase the sophistication of individuals’ political judgments” (Gastil & Dillard, 1999, p. 20). The researchers note that “previous research has found a clear relationship between formal education and political expertise” (Gastil & Dillard, 1999, p. 1). If we combine Gastil and Dillard’s (1999) results with Tan et al’s (2007) we find that deliberative discussion coupled with the introduction of a computer-mediated environment can foster a more egalitarian platform for discussion as compared to face-to-face deliberation. Taking this one step further, we can see the potential success of political blogs in becoming a major source of political knowledge for citizens in the future.
Furthermore, “the internet democratizes politics by fostering greater participation, encouraging new political parties and interest groups, and levels the playing field among citizens” (Foot & Schneider, 2002, p. 225). It is easier to take collective action and mobilize online because the costs of organization are reduced when compared to face-to-face encounters. When citizens can afford to participate and are given a platform such as a political blog site to participate where they can be heard, they are more likely to care about participating actively.
The extent to which Americans are engaged in political life has important implications for society. According to a study by Moy et al,
“Healthy levels of civic engagement aid in the resolution of community problems and help citizens address their collective interests, and citizens who are active in their communities tend to have greater “capacity…for self-directed change”. Indeed, democratic theory presupposes an active citizenry” (Moy, Manosevich, Stamm, & Dunsmore, 2005).
According to a study by McLeod, “Recent studies have shown that network heterogeneity has a positive main effect on political participation and media use” (McLeod, 1999, p. 895). Since this study was completed before the first online US presidential online campaign of 2004, we can see how diversity helps to encourage democracy, along with dissenting opinions that help discussants find their way to the truth. McLeod (1999) goes on to say that since public opinions on the internet involve persons with different values and beliefs, the experience of ordinary political conversation becomes much more relevant to public expression if such conversation also contains dissent.
By that same token, a study by Drew and Weaver point out that “More frequent Internet news exposure and greater attention to any Internet campaign information in the fall of 2004 were significant predictors of more issue knowledge and interest in the campaign” (Drew & Weaver, 2006, p. 33). Also, Lee found that “In a democratizing society such as Hong Kong, where political culture is under continual development, enhancing citizens’ public opinion expression can be crucial to the development of democracy itself” (Lee, 2005, p. 892).
Lastly, in a study by Scheufele (2000), researchers found that while use of newspaper news plays a direct role in informing citizens, a large proportion of that influence is mediated through political talk. Their findings that “Media’s influence on information levels and political participation is to a large degree a function of people talking to each other and, in the process, learning more and becoming more likely to participate in politics” (Scheufele, 2000, p. 737). Learning more and becoming more active in politics will surely occur on blog sites as well and possibly be more effective since, as shown earlier, computer-mediated communication creates a more egalitarian atmosphere than face-to-face discussion.
Albert Bandura’s social learning theory is at work throughout these studies used in my research because “much learning takes place through observing the behavior of others” on these political blog sites (Severin 276). Self-efficacy is extremely important because it is “people’s judgment of their ability to exert control over their level of functioning and events that affect their lives” (Severin, 1997, p.277). Since political bloggers go to sites to find information like and unlike their own personal views, their levels of self-efficacy are very important in their decision as to whether the information available on these sites is credible and useful or not.
Uses and Gratifications theory also plays a major role in this study, because some research has been done on what motivates people to seek out blogs. Just as the previous studies predicted that people use political blogs as a source of information about political affairs, “Blumer and McQuail found that “surveillance of the political environment” was the main reason why media users in 1969 watched political broadcasts on television” (Severin, 1997, p. 295). There has been past research indicating that people turn to the media mainly for entertainment or reinforcement purposes, so these results are in contrast to that.
In his essay on ‘The Self-Centered Man’, Lippman suggests that “early democrats insisted that a reasoned righteousness welled up spontaneously out of the mass of men” (Lippman, 1961, p.257). A century later, it seems not so naïve to believe that free political discussion via the internet can generate the truth. The internet can provide all relevant and accurate information regarding a political candidate, and in turn, allows bloggers to rely less fully on corporate media for news. Online political discourse on blog sites is undistorted and unbiased by various levels of reporters and editors, as long as the viewer knows which information to filter in, and since bloggers are not paid for participation or opinion, it is easier to accept their comments as true to their own personal beliefs.
Additionally, because equality in deliberation requires that all are able to participate, the blog forums must be open to all citizens, and participants must be willing to discuss and reason with each other truthfully. One can assume that this is happening correctly when there is no motivation (monetary, for example) other than a desire to participate in the political process.
Large media organizations emphasize profits over information diversity, and if we depend on them completely for political information, democracy will never be achieved because there will always be an economic goal. However, political blog sites have no motivation for profit, cost no money to run and have a minimal cost to access (just the cost of an internet device and a connection). Access to the internet allows most citizens a chance to voice their political views as opposed to a newspaper, for example, that may only demonstrate the views of the elite.
In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill states that, “If the teachers of mankind are to be cognizant of all that they ought to know, everything must be free to be written and published without restraint” (Mill, 1869, p.156). Since the internet was obviously not available in 1869 when Mill’s article was published, we can imagine how much more information is available now due to its creation approximately 120 years later. Blogs are also beneficial to increasing democracy because if we look back to John Stuart Mill’s encouragement of dissent, we understand that opinion polarization is essential to building and maintaining a democracy. Pluralism is increased and encouraged in online deliberation because there is more opportunity for diversity for discussion participants. With the added diversity of internet, each blogger can sort through many opinions to find the truth, instead of traditional media where you often only get one opinion.
Media dependency theory can play a large role in the future of blog sites. There is a possibility that as more and more people rely on those blog sites; they may start to depend on them completely as a source for political information. This power could eventually lead to agenda setting by the owners of blogs. Under the media dependency model, the media can influence an entire culture by shaping individuals’ attitudes and belief systems. Television, controlled by elites and organizations, used to define for us how to act and what should be important to us. We are now in the age of internet where control of content does not necessarily go to the highest bidder.
According to DeFleur, “it is virtually impossible to hold an election today without the mass media. The political system has become more dependent on the resources of the media system than it was when political parties were powerful and mass communication was only incidental” (DeFleur, 1982, p.322). Political candidates and citizens may or may not like what they see on these political blog sites, but because these sites are accessible to all, open to all, and transparent to all, the democracy appears to be alive and well in this new form of political participation.
Severin found in his research that,
“Since the typical webpage visitor has been described as one of cognitive submission, even though the participant is being active in democracy by using the web politically, web users may not necessarily be thinking critically about what they are seeing and hearing”(Severin, 1997, p.378).
However, in his theories on cybercommunication, Severin notes that “The web offers potential for communication that is more decentralized and more democratic than provided by the older mass media” (Severin, 1997, p.367). Severin goes on to say that the opportunity for Internet collaboration is in itself a revolutionary development that “gives great power to the individual audience member” (Severin, 1997, p.367).
Applying social presence and media richness theory to online communication, discussants are lacking verbal and visual cues which suggest that it is not possible to communicate information-rich emotions in computer-mediated communications. Shoemaker and Reese make a point that media content is influenced by variables of which no one person has control, and this is certainly true in the case of blog content (Shoemaker & Reese, 1996).
As mentioned in my Research section, a computer-mediated environment may also eliminate the chance of a Spiral of Silence occurring because people are embarrassed or nervous to express their own true thoughts. According to Elisabeth Noelle-Newman, “on a controversial issue people form impressions about the distribution of public opinion. If they think public opinion is changing away from them, they tend to remain silent on the issue” (Severin, 1997, p. 273).
All of the research shows that increased opportunities for participation can only encourage democracy. If we combine the results of the research by Gastil & Dillard that tell us that discussion does increase political knowledge and sophistication, with the research by Drew and Weaver that finds that exposure to internet campaign information in the fall of 2004 increased political knowledge, it is easy to see that a computer-mediated environment, along with opportunities for discussion and dissent with others as equal peers online (since we lack formal status cues), lead to increased democracy.
Additionally, status cues between online discussants in regard to using a formal or less formal version of language online were actually evaluated for Tan et al.’s (2007) study and, “status markers did not influence perceptions of a discussant’s informativeness, or persuasiveness, but did have some effect on source credibility” (Tan, Swee, Lim, Detenber, & Alsagoff, 2007, p.14) and went on to say that “Previous CMC studies in organizational and social contexts have shown that a lack of status cues can result in greater equality of participation online” (Tan, Swee, Lim, Detenber, & Alsagoff, 2007, p. 6).
Johnson and Kaye also dealt with source credibility in their research and found that “Internet users judged online sources as only “somewhat credible”, however political issue-oriented sites were the most believable when compared to traditionally delivered counterparts such as television and newspapers” (Johnson & Kaye, 2000, p. 866).
This research means that citizens are increasingly turning to and trusting the Internet for accurate information, using it as a platform for participatory democracy, and becoming more knowledgeable about political information in the process. A Spiral of Silence is less likely to exist where citizens have only each others' opinions to evaluate in terms of their own civic participation and lack status cues such as gender, race, and socio-economic status. Blog sites definitely are increasing the ways in which citizens can participate in their democracy.
Even though Cultivation theory was developed to explain the effects of television viewing on people’s values, I believe that this theory can be applied to the Internet and blog sites as well. Political blog site users learn what norms, roles, and values of political participation they can use to model themselves as the democratic citizens they are striving to be by participating in political blog discussion in the first place.
The fact that citizens are using blog sites to increase their own political knowledge can also be attributed to Media System Dependency theory. Participants will actively expose themselves to media content that they have reason to expect will help them to achieve one or more of their learning goals. Due to the variations of intensity between different individuals’ personal goals and environments as they strive to reduce ambiguity on a blog site, DeFleur believes that “people who have been cognitively and affectively aroused will engage in the kind of careful processing of information that will allow them to recall or remember the information after exposure” (DeFleur, 1982, p.314). Applied to blog site usage, the theory could be renamed “Political Blog Dependency Theory”.
Further research needs to be done on possible ways to eliminate bias in all news media or educating citizens to recognize it. Since blogs are often hyperlinked together, and new and pertinent blogs are found by users through the use of hyperlinking, we can see a concerned and politically active network evolving through the use of linking blogs to each other. This should be studied more in depth to show how users’ degree of political action taken changed after discussing certain issues on political blog sites. A technique to poll individual bloggers on their levels of competency and caring can be put into place for researchers to investigate how these users relate to the network and how the tools used on these networks facilitate change or a desire to take political action by individual users.
In his study, Scheufele discusses how social capital is built and maintained through political conversation, and “people who reported having been persuaded by others to participate in various political activities most frequently listed nonpolitical contacts such as neighbors and coworkers are the ones who recruited them” (Scheufele, 2000, p. 738). I believe this should be investigated further because it will explore what motivates citizens to participation in a democracy.
Also, the digital divide that exists between users of internet and those without access was not really addressed in these studies. While many locations have free internet and computer access at libraries, more research could be done to see what demographic of citizens are being ignored in these studies because they lack the means to blog. The diffusion of innovations that exists through the spread of new technologies may make it difficult for certain age groups, like senior citizens who are often later adopters of new technologies, to find democracy on the internet at the rate that younger users do. Community courses that teach senior citizens how to use these political blog sites could be very useful.
Caring and Competence
Through their political conversations on blog sites, citizens exchange information, develop and refine their political stances and opinions, create new meanings, build their own personal identities and connect this public discourse to their own personal lives. Watching others participate can easily lead to a modeling of their behavior. Modeling can most certainly lead to caring once an individual realizes the rewards of democratic participation.
By taking political discussion online, the self-centered man moves out of his self-contained community a bit and can easily connect with others of all demographics and opinions. Doing something like this face-to-face would be incredibly costly and nearly impossible. By removing the face-to-face element and the visual cues that would be present in face-to-face deliberation, a less distorted environment may be created because people are less concerned with how they look, how others look, or worrying about their own gratification over civic duty.
When people discuss their political views online without any visual or verbal cues with which to evaluate discussants socio-economic status, some of the useless components of face-to-face communication are filtered out, social influences are minimized and it will be easier for discussants to stay on task.
People must care in order to participate in democracy. They demonstrate this on blog sites by deploying time and energy into getting their voice heard, whether they are in the majority or minority. These bloggers know that democracy is valuable to those who understand it and participate in it because it is likely to be the reason why they participate in the first place.
Peoples’ caring, competence, and self-efficacy on political blog sites are all combined to further each others’ levels of knowledge and create a clearer picture of individual rights and duties as members of a democracy. Two different motivations for political blog usage could be a desire to read others’ opinions that are like one’s own or to find dissenting views. If diversity of opinion is the motivation behind political blog site participation, it implies that political discussion participants care to be exposed to a wider range of opinions thereby aiding them in deliberative participation.
Media serve a role as a watchdog and as an information provider to citizens. Blog sites increase watchdog and informational capabilities of citizens by providing an avenue for criticism of media such as television and newspapers. It becomes impossible to dissent from an opinion if there is no outlet to do it, and without an opportunity to dissent, democracy is completely lost. Television, print, or radio news do not provide the viewer or minority a chance to express their agreeing or dissenting opinion, so immediately, the internet seems the only place to uphold the democratic ideal of allowing the minority a voice.
The capacity of the Internet to allow for cooperation and coproduction between citizens who normally would not have the resources to meet up and discuss issues relevant to both has diminished the degree of control that message producers or media can maintain. Also, increased opportunities for citizens to agree and dissent from each other will increase the number of ways and instances in which citizens may mobilize to participate more fully in campaign and political activities, thereby increasing individual democratic participation and gaining political knowledge. In political blogs, users often comment on posts that other users in the future will in turn comment on again, this is a key form of information exchange, because the information begins to be filtered by other blog readers and their comments.
Trent Lott, a former US Senator from Mississippi made a racist statement about Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential bid at his 100th Birthday Party in 2002 (Scachtman, 2002). This information did not get picked up by mainstream media, but made its way into the blogosphere. The blog media served as a watchdog here and mainstream media finally picked up the story after it had circulated through some very popular blogs first. Senator Lott ended up resigning as Senate Majority Leader in the Senate. At the time, Senator Lott may not have even known what blogs were, but their ability to provide an information role had a hand in the undoing of his political career.
Blogs have a speedier turnaround time for publication than traditional news outlets have. The routine for a blogger involves absorbing the information and then uploading it to a blog’s server for all to read. Traditional media, such as newspapers or television, require many people and often times very strict routines that begin, for instance with a beat reporter and travel through a large chain of command to an editor, to filter the information properly to the news consumer. Traditional media, through routines, attempt to run bias-free stories—however, bias can be very sneaky and sometimes is even missed by media workers and ends up published. Blog readers must keep this existing bias in mind when they absorb information from political blog sites because they know that there is not a system of routines to check the validity of information as there is in traditional media.
Democratic Assumptions Upheld?
The Democratic Assumptions
are most definitely upheld in the studies I have found. When a political discussant enters a blog site, he or she knows that the site is likely not edited or owned by any media outlet. The fact that bloggers can discuss as they see fit encourages democracy. However, because the “truths” that they find online may not have any basis in fact, the usefulness of these blogs can sometimes be skewed.
We can look at political blogging as a new watchdog for the media in making sure that the minority has a right to organize since a blog site allows for equal attention to be given to each side of an issue. Since blogs often generate a series of comments, users can see whether democracy is occurring by assessing whether those comments show the majority and minority respecting each other. The blogs’ ability to give the minority an equal voice makes large strides toward a democratic result during the often tumultuous process of democracy.
The problem of democracy among people is that we are always making decisions based on distorted or biased information because without any outlets such as the Internet, it is nearly impossible to see beyond our own immediate environments. The problem of democracy among traditional news media such as newspapers and television is that they have very real information gathering limitations. A blog site is open for all who know of it to participate and add information to it. There are few opportunities for a layperson to participate or dissent from what is said on network news or in the newspaper, and of course, this is the glaring reason why a public forum, like the internet, functions as such a great forum for democracy. Internet enables us to transcend our small community and blog sites offer an organized opportunity for discussion.
Changes in Press/Society Relationship
To encourage more Democratic participation, bloggers with dissenting opinions from all socio-economic walks of life, genders, and races need to feel that their opinions are heard when blogging. Political blog sites could offer more information about blog topics to new members or participants. Encouraging participants to speak on a site about only site-specific information (as in specific political topics only) will help keep participants on track with the discussion.
Political blog site users may not be thinking critically when they log onto these sites and use them. Maybe users no longer have any need to worry about a spiral of silence because they are only somewhat accountable for their actions on a blog site. We see this all too often when users “troll” or “flame” on sites. This means that they only use serious political blog sites as a place to blow off steam or say whatever they want, usually angling to get a rise out of fellow bloggers.
The interpretation of status cues online such as socioeconomic status, gender, and race are not straightforward or easily discerned in a blogging environment. Just because a blog user has an “Expert” title, does not mean that they have a PhD. in political science. A system of accountability online for discussants may be in order. For example, in many online forums, Moderators are noted by their profile information, and potential discussants could send proof of any previous political experience or education to those Moderators so that everyone involved in the discussion can personally assess each discussants’ credibility. This will increase transparency and source credibility in online political deliberation settings in the future.
It also seems as though many current blog users may need training in skills for evaluating political blog site information in a useful and systematic way that would increase their personal political knowledge and efficacy. If political blogging were to become a standardized practice, where users are held fully accountable for their opinions through proof of prior political experience or a PhD, and every US citizen was given an account accessible by social security number, anonymity can still exist if names are not used. For example, knowing that someone has a PhD in political science or that they used to be a governor does not give away a person’s identity, but this could be somewhat problematic in local politics where communities are small and everyone knows each other.
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