Friday, December 17, 2010

Political Forum Civility

I recently made the mistake of commenting on a post over at NewsBusters. I asked for someone to provide evidence for a statement they made and provided links to and articles indicating that their statement was false. It turned out that they were making a more general comment than I was refuting with my links, but the initial reaction of the individual was to call me a jerk and question my intelligence. Other responders accused PolitiFact and FactCheck of being liberally biased or accused me of being someone who I assume was kicked off the forums in the past.

I spent a good two hours researching my responses to everything, which probably doesn't surprise anyone who has read some of my past entries, especially this one. No one else did much in the way of research that I could see. They spent most of their time calling each other names, insulting various people's intelligences, and/or making vague statements and insisting that they are obviously true. It was quite maddening. However, this got me thinking about how to improve the system.

It seems to me that the entire situation, or at least my involvement in it, could have been avoided if the original statement in question had been backed up with evidence to begin with. And wouldn't it be nice if every forum post was thoroughly evidenced? When it takes half an hour to research a response, it is very unlikely that you'll make said response include a personal attack. Why is that? Because it wouldn't fit in with the tone of a research paper. The other forum members would have also spent half an hour researching each of their comments, so there would be a shared experience and the understanding and empathy that goes along with that. Finally, it's very difficult to sustain anger for thirty minutes of reading about policy. Thus, I think the discourse would start, and remain, civil.

Then, with all these informative links being included, perhaps something could get resolved. First, the validity of various links and/or the arguments therein could be established. One pattern that would emerge pretty quickly is that people bring up the same articles as evidence over and over again. Some would be agreed to be accurate, and others would be shown to be flawed. The forum could be tied to a database of links and their truthiness rating. The comments would then have the links color coded using some well-established and meaningful color code. The only problem remaining is how to decide on the truthfulness of the links. Which, of course, is a huge problem, as evidenced by people dismissing PolitiFact and FactCheck as biased. (I am not saying for certain that they aren't, but no one has yet shown me solid evidence that they are.)

So, anyone have any other ideas on how to keep online political (or other) discussion civil and informative? Perhaps more importantly, does anyone have any idea on how we can at least agree on the facts?

1 comment:

lauren said...

I don't have any suggestions...but I admire the civility that you're trying to bring to the forums. I've noticed similar behavior on most any place where there's a wide enough readership and a sense of anonymity among commenters. People make unnecessary judgments, choose their words and/or arguments carelessly, and don't end up contributing anything productive. It's disappointing. But your approach is refreshing and so very typical of you. :)