"Echo Chamber" or "Back Alley?"

What do you think? There have been several discussions around the argument that the Internet is a political "echo chamber," where like meets like and people can fool themselves into thinking that they are part of something substantial when they aren’t. But, then we also get this story: In Politics, the Web Is a Parallel World With Its Own Rules

The one-minute spot, introduced a week ago, did not appear on television, but on President Bush’s campaign Web site. And so a new bare-knuckled political use of the World Wide Web showed its head: the Internet attack ad.

When the Web was in its infancy, Internet utopians envisioned a political revolution, predicting that the new medium would engage and empower voters as never before. Much of what they envisioned has come to pass, with the Internet facilitating vigorous debate this year, most dramatically, giving Howard Dean’s campaign the ability to raise millions.

But part of the Web’s appeal has been its unbridled nature, and it is showing that it can act as a back alley — where punches can be thrown and things can be said that might be deemed out of place, even if just at a particular moment, in the full light of the mainstream media.

“The principals themselves feel like they can act out there in a way that they wouldn’t dare to do in the mainstream media,’” said Jonathan Zittrain, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.