Bill Clinton's Warning: Internet Is Echo Chamber For Unhinged

Former President Bill Clinton told BBC News that political rhetoric should not "degenerate into demonization," but that nobody intends to encourage the sort of violence that occurred in Arizona.

But he also says that the anger in the country is rising and the House should lead the way in toning down the rhetoric, which can take on an unintended life in the "echo chamber" of the Internet.

In an interview from a Haitian refugee camp on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the earthquake there, Clinton said that he could see the level of anger in the country rising and wrote about that in an essay last April, according to a transcript of the interview supplied by the BBC.

"I think this is an occasion for us to reaffirm that our political differences shouldn't degenerate into demonization of the sense that, you know, if you don't agree with me you're not a good American," Clinton said. "I think that that's what I'd like to see, I'd like to see the House of Representatives lead the way."

While he did not say whether he thought such angry rhetoric could prompt an unintended reaction like the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, he did suggest it, saying "we cannot be unaware of the fact that, particularly with the Internet, there's this huge echo-chamber out there, and anything any of us says falls on the unhinged and the hinged alike, and we just have to be sensitive to it." A number of Democrats have suggested that violent rhetoric, even if it is simply meant as rhetoric, could still be a trigger for violent action.

But Clinton also said that no one "intends to do anything that encourages this sort of behavior," adding that, "I think it is wrong for anyone to suggest it." The primary argument for toning down the rhetoric, and even the angry finger-pointing by some Democrats, has not been the suggestion that those taking rhetorical shots mean for anyone to take them literally, but that violent rhetoric can incite others to take the meaning literally anyway.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.