March 26, 2019

The Most Civil Place on the Internet

“Imagine a place on the internet where a post that begins with “I’m not a feminist” is met with comments quoting Virginia Woolf and asking serious, clarifying questions. A place where a conversation about gun-control legislation unfurls into a thread of analogies, statistics, and self-reflection; where a discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of immigration is carried out in a series of building logical arguments. A place where users with radically different political opinions interact productively and politely, where a willingness to participate thoughtfully is the rule rather than the exception, and where people readily admit when their views on a subject have been altered.

This vision seems like the stuff of technology fantasy; spend five minutes on the platforms that host most of the web’s political arguments, and you’re likely to find name-calling, bigotry, sarcasm, and stubborn assumption. It’s a rare thing to stumble on an online dispute about politics that hasn’t devolved into a furious and chaotic shouting match, where no one can make out what is being said for the noise.

But civil discourse does exist, at least in a small pocket of the internet. Reddit’s Change My View forum, founded in 2013 by Kal Turnbull, then a teenage musician in Scotland, is an online space that promotes respectful conversation between people who disagree with each other. Its mission statement says that the subreddit is “built around the idea that in order to resolve our differences, we must first understand them.” Turnbull says that he created Change My View because of what he saw as a lack of places to turn to if you wanted to discuss an issue with people who took the opposite perspective. There was social media, but the goal on those platforms was largely not to listen and engage in search of insight. He wanted the forum to be conversational—a way of learning about an issue that wasn’t limited to self-directed research. Because of the unique oasis that Change My View represents from the troll-stalked depths of the rest of the internet, a number of academic studies have used its data to analyze how persuasion and civility work online. It has also spawned a blog and a podcast.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"THE CAPTURE of the last territory controlled by the Islamic State on Saturday was far from a final victory over the movement, as U.S. commanders and diplomats were careful to emphasize."

"How a Gay Teen, an Internet Nazi, and a Late-Night Rendezvous Turned to Tragedy. When self-loathing meets the new age of online extremism."

"Benjamin Netanyahu ignored the intelligence operations of Beijing and Moscow for too long. Now, the Israeli government is finally paying attention, but it could be too late."

"Former Nick Jr. kids are now reckoning with this all-grown-up intrepid explorer, whose obstacles are a lot bigger than Swiper the Fox. And that is a hard pill to swallow."

"At the end of last week, the three-month Treasury bills' yield rose above the yield for 10-year Treasuries for the first time since 2007, prompting warnings that the U.S. is headed for recession later this year or in early 2020."

"A team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology attempted to answer some questions about voting with the help of artificial intelligence (AI)."

"The experts I spoke with all said that the internet had changed the way conspiracies spread, but conspiracies, both dangerous and petty, have always been with us."

"Pop culture today is obsessed with the battle between good and evil. Traditional folktales never were. What changed?"

"Trustful parents allow their children as much freedom as reasonably possible to make their own decisions. They trust their children’s instincts, judgments, and ability to learn from mistakes."

"Arugulagate. In 2007, Barack Obama was in Iowa, speaking as a presidential hopeful to a group of farmers who were worried about the stagnation of their crop prices while America’s grocery bills continued to rise."

"To say that information exists in and of itself is akin to speaking of spin without the top, of ripples without water, of a dance without the dancer, or of the Cheshire Cat’s grin without the cat."

"Ted Cruz replaces the Democrats’ muddled manifesto with a clear and unequivocal exploration of the hatred of Jews and its particular evils."