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Cheap Friendship

Jane R. Bambauer, Saura Masconale, Simone M. Sepe

Vol. 54

June 2021

Page 2341

This Essay argues that the Internet law and policy community has misdiagnosed the causes of political polarization. Rather, more precisely, it has missed a major contributing cause. The dominant theories focus on Big Tech (e.g., the filter bubbles that curate Internet content with self-interested goals at the expense of democratic functioning) and on faulty cognition (e.g., human tendencies to favor sensationalism and tribal dogmatism). Cheap speech, according to these dominant theories, provides the fuel and fodder.

We offer an explanation that is at once more banal and more resistant to policy interventions: cheap friendship.

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