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      Political polarization toned down through anonymous online chats / ArsTechnica · Monday, 21 August, 2023 - 23:11 · 1 minute

    illustration of two phones with chat bubbles

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    Political polarization in the US has become a major issue, as Republicans and Democrats increasingly inhabit separate realities on topics as diverse as election results and infectious diseases. An actual separation seems to underly some of these differences, as members of the two parties tend to live in relatively homogeneous communities, cluster together on social media, and rely on completely different news sources.

    That's not a recipe for a functional society, and lots of work has gone into exploring the impact of polarization, as well as possible means of reducing it. Now, a team of researchers has tested whether social media can potentially help the situation by getting people with opposite political leanings talking to each other about controversial topics. While this significantly reduced polarization, it appeared to be more effective for Republican participants.

    Anonymity is key

    The researchers zeroed in on two concepts to design their approach. The first is the idea that simply getting people to communicate across the political divide might reduce the sense that at least some of their opponents aren't as extreme as they're often made out to be. The second is that anonymity would allow people to focus on the content of their discussion, rather than worrying about whether what they were saying could be traced back to them.

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      Does Tor provide more benefit or harm? New paper says it depends

      Dan Goodin · / ArsTechnica · Monday, 30 November, 2020 - 23:00

    Does Tor provide more benefit or harm? New paper says it depends

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    The Tor anonymity network has generated controversy almost constantly since its inception almost two decades ago. Supporters say it’s a vital service for protecting online privacy and circumventing censorship, particularly in countries with poor human rights records. Critics, meanwhile, argue that Tor shields criminals distributing child-abuse images, trafficking in illegal drugs, and engaging in other illicit activities.

    Researchers on Monday unveiled new estimates that attempt to measure the potential harms and benefits of Tor. They found that, worldwide, almost 7 percent of Tor users connect to hidden services, which the researchers contend are disproportionately more likely to offer illicit services or content compared with normal Internet sites. Connections to hidden services were significantly higher in countries rated as more politically “free” relative to those that are “partially free” or “not free.”

    Licit versus illicit

    Specifically, the fraction of Tor users globally accessing hidden sites is 6.7, a relatively small proportion. Those users, however, aren’t evenly distributed geographically. In countries with regimes rated “not free” by this scoring from an organization called Freedom House, access to hidden services was just 4.8 percent. In “free” countries, the proportion jumped to 7.8 percent.

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