Ad Blocking All Civic Duties

When information channels are skewed, the foundation breaks down

Kids today live in a world in which nearly nothing external can penetrate.

Many millennials are cutting the cable cord, DVR shows and fast-forwarding through commercials, or just watching Netflix, which has no ads.

If the phone rings, they know who’s calling — and often just don’t answer. Ad blockers on web browsers also bar any outside intrusion. But while it may be nice to keep out those annoying targeted ads, such blockers also keep out political advertising, often leaving politicians with no way to get in touch with a young potential voter.

In the past, you turned on the TV to watch a show — you got commercials. Your home phone rang, you answered it — not knowing who was on the line. You read the newspapers, you got the ads. But today, that’s all changed.

Industry insider site TechCrunch has suggested the U.S. presidential election will be decided by ad blockers, and AdAge has claimed the interference can adversely affect democracy itself.

Industry insider site TechCrunch has suggested the U.S. presidential election will be decided by ad blockers.

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Think of the new TiVO system that proudly boasts a feature that allows users to employ its SkipMode to zip past all television advertising when watching a recorded program. The company even quoted US News & World Report, which hailed the innovation: “Dreams come true; no more commercials.” Skipping dopey food, toy and drug ads might be beneficial, and skipping spots for other shows on the same network might make sense. But again, what happens when they’re paid political spots?

The biggest demographic affected by this are millennials, a population that’s been voting in relatively low numbers but will become increasingly engaged in political debate as they grow older. A whopping 63 percent of them admit to using ad blockers as part of their online experience.

They’re also the quickest cord cutters, willing to eschew traditional communication channels in favor of social media like Facebook. For those who have a predisposition to seek affirmation of their views (and limit exposure to opposing views), their online experience could easily end up completely devoid of meaningful political debate. Ad blockers facilitating censure combined with self-censorship will inevitably breed a class of increasingly uninformed voters.

It’s an unnerving possibility. The United States system of government is based on classical ideas about an educated public, so perhaps it’s time to remember our roots. As Thomas Jefferson once noted: “Wherever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

When information channels are skewed, the foundation breaks down.

Our country was built on a foundation of trust between credible public servants and an informed populace (and media) responsible for keeping them honest. When information channels are skewed, the foundation breaks down.

Censorship that occurs as a result of ad blocking — even if self-imposed — should give us pause. Contrary to the hype, ad blockers are more complicated than they seem. They suppress the freedom of advertisers, which represents an affront to any functioning, free society.

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