Arguing on the Internet

I want to talk about something I’ve been noticing in how people converse online, in particular publicly in networks like Twitter and Slack. A lot of this conversation seems to be argumentative, which misses a great opportunity to grow understanding in communities.

By “arguing” I don’t really mean people having shouting matches or otherwise having heated or nasty conversations, I mean the literal sense of the word, having a reasoned, rational, and relatively polite debate. Most of this applies equally to the nastier version of arguing most of us think about on Twitter, but I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and talk about the kind of arguing that happens at best on Twitter and Slack.

What I notice goes something like this: Somebody will make a statement, then one or more somebody elses will reply to that statement, agreeing or disagreeing, with reasons supporting their stance. Again, it often ends up meaner and less reasoned online, but I’m talking about the best case.

As far as debating goes, this is pretty run of the mill. But the problem is lots of subtly gets left behind. When all you’re trying to do in a reply is try to prove or disprove a statement, you ignore the nuance of what’s being said, and you don’t allow any of it to enter your worldview. There is no space for “Oh, that’s interesting! How does that relate to…” there’s really only room for “I disagree, here’s why…”

But it’s hard to fit that kind nuance into a Twitter discussion. And while Slack lets you type long messages, the flow of Slack often doesn’t leave time for contemplation (at least not in a group setting). It’s not impossible on these networks, but these media really don’t want you thinking about the subtleties. So while possible, it’s not common.

A lot of what I publish here isn’t so much to be right or wrong, isn’t so much to prove a point, but instead it’s a way for me to share something I’m thinking about so that you, reader, can see a potentially different vantage point. You may disagree with some (or all!) of it, but I hope disagreeing with it doesn’t mean you ignore everything I say.

Speed of Light