Why does online discourse suck so much?


#1

This is totally an opinion question by the way. No right or wrong answer.

I think that online discourse inevitably breaks out into personal attacks but not because people initially intended to insult each other. I think it happens because when there is no base argument to dispute, or more often, NO WAY TO PROPERLY DEBATE. So people resort to the next best option. On TruStory, we make it a requirement to cite statistics or other pieces of evidence; this forces people to decide based on sound reasoning rather than emotion. On traditional social media platforms, people would’ve cited statistics and would’ve stayed unbudged in their worldviews. People would just spend time cherry-picking data and presenting stats that support their agenda without agreeing on a common piece of evidence. TruStory prompts users to understand the process by which both statistics emerged and see if any commonalities exist. The right way to debate is not to say this statistic is right or that one is wrong but to get the whole picture from multiple data points. The truth lies somewhere in between.


#2

Having spent a lot of time on Twitter, Reddit, and various forums, it boggles my mind how little substance most of the discussions and arguments on these platforms have. Most often, people are just arguing through their ego and identity, rather than trying to get to the truth. People seem to care more about being right than knowing what is right.

This deeply bothers me. I know that there are enough people in the world who care about the truth. They care about understanding reality.

This is what we’re after at TruStory. Rather than arguing about opinions, we argue about objective claims. Since everything has skin in the game, these claims must be backed by evidence and sound reasoning to incentivize others to want to back your claim.


#4

For any kind of debate/arguments on any public platform mostly attract the supporters of the subject and counter argument people. Truth seekers are most of the time biased by the rating system,because of the lack of knowledge. And majority of the ratings hyped by the blind supporters/manipulators. There is no solution which shows credibility of the raters who has voted it so high/down.

Based on my experience on twitter discussions and work experience with one of the public question answering internet product. I have observed these problems on public platform.

  1. Current validation of the truth/answers is based on rating system, which is manipulative.
  2. No incentives or right way to attract subject matter experts into system based on topic.
  3. No way to show the credibility of voters who supported the argument.
  4. No way to detect lie, a centralized censored verification always fails.
  5. Fraud detection rarely works

Same time its possible to design decentralized public truth system. Wikipedia has proved that . It is one of the successful decentralized product where people learn and validate the truth.


#5

People contributing to any online discourse do it generally for the heck of it, they just want to put their point without giving much thought to it. Discussions or arguing online is more easier and doesn’t require any fact checking, can be anonymous and is not countered immediately, they can get away with it easily. I believe for each truth posted online there are hundreds of fake and manipulative arguments and each one wants to drive his or her version of truth home. Thus, the online discourse sucks !!


#6

I think we see a lack of substantive discourse due to a lack of meaningful consequence or tangible disincentive to saying something purely incendiary, hateful, inaccurate, or just off-topic. In the real world there are several protections from this kind of behavior. Most obviously, you are present in a conversation and don’t get to hide in anonymity. If you say something that qualifies as “sucky” (in the context of this prompt), you get directly or indirectly shamed out of continuing to do so. It physically feels bad to be sucky in real life, for most people. The person you talk with will walk away, or give you negative body language or outright call you on your suck-ness. There’s inherent disincentive to being derisive or callous or off-topic. Online communities have struggled with such disincentives.

Part of where I’m looking to see TruStory to excel in order to achieve it’s stated mission is to build in mechanisms that not only reward truthful claims and demote falsehoods, but also pass on that feeling of sticking your neck out for a position even before it’s verified. You must believe yourself and signal a willingness to stand by your statement in a meaningful way. Communities online feel valuable to me when it feels like the participants have that investment in their statements to a point where it would hurt to be wrong.


#7

very well said. thank you!


#8

I honestly think online discourse does not suck. Are there bad actors and bad arguments? Of course there is, but you also have bad discourse in our political institutions and in our everyday conversations. Online discourse has given me the opportunity to learn the stories and ideas of people that I would never have met in my life, and it has made me a better person for it. When we go online, we individually are choosing to embark to read new ideas, or meet new people and that’s what really makes online great.

The real problem with online discourse is the constant need for external validation. Online users want retweets and likes, and want to have their ideas accepted and approved by the mentality of the herd. No one wants to feel that their alone, and I believe many people go to the internet to find a community. So when users find a community or a tribe they make sure their ideas/opinions are validated or supported by their adopted groups. In turn, this makes online discourse tribal just like our political system. The fact that there are now algorithms that chose the news you read is only making things worse. The best way to make any discourse better is to actually take time to consider the other’s perspective and not allow tribes and herds to control your ideas.


#9

I think there are many reasons. I think the anonymity of the Internet is certainly a major one. On sites where identity is authenticated, there tends to be less impolite behavior.

Another is the fact that social media is still a new medium (you could even argue it’s far more than that) and social norms have not been set. The fact that in sites like Facebook, your newsfeed is based on things you’ve already liked leads to us living in bubbles and increasing polarization. Imagine if the newspaper only gave you stories based on what you’d already read. This is essentially what happens in Facebook.

I also think that we’re losing faith in the concept of argument and free speech. It seems that many people on all ends of the political spectrum think that name calling is an acceptable form of argument.


#10

I spend a considerable amount of time on Reddit and Twitter and have realized that faceless independence along with lack of disincentive for churning crap - makes people quite bold and write anything. Partially it is driven by egos and also by the fact that there are very little checks and balances to drive down people who spoil a discussion.
Similar thing goes with online feedbacks also - I mean if you look at AirBnB or Amazon, and sometimes people give feedback on parameters which are ridiculous. People do not read completely what others say or do not even try to understand the other’s perspective and hence there is a discord.
I hope TruStory - as by putting a value on the token to like/dislike/contest a story can make it a much more saner place.
And as I write it, I realize that Quora also does a decently good job. They hide the negative answers, and thus the visible discussion is much more sensible.


#11

In my opinion, the lack of social norms online allowed our hardwired inner devils to take over and have developed, over the last decade and a half, into new online social norms. For example, I don’t recall trolls being rewarded on the playground; they had their friends, but were mostly left alone. Now trolls have armies. Message boards were a great idea and connected so many people to each other, but there was usually very little moderating or ability to keep people in check. So while someone on a message board would and will, say horrendous things to someone that they would not say one-on-one in a room, they felt free to say those things and often would receive the dopamine drip that eventually led to nastier and nastier behavior.

In Suicide of the West, Jonah Goldberg discusses how tribalism threatens what he terms the “miracle” which is, in essence, civilization as we know it. Unfortunately, through message boards, Twitter, Reddit, etc., tribalism is rampant and actively works to shun and destroy “others.” This could, arguably, track back to how humans survived for millenia which is what Goldberg argues. Regardless, I’m a little pessimistic that we’ve hit rock bottom, and I’m not sure that as a society we’ll see the necessary shift to improve online discourse until we do. However, ideas like TruStory, and ensuring that users have skin in the game, are great in that it will hopefully encourage a more responsible discourse in one area that can hopefully spread to other areas and even politics.


#12

couldn’t agree more. thank you.


#13

I have a slightly different opinion on this. That "meaningful consequence or tangible disincentive…" you mention is not just an online-phenomenon, and in my opinion is decreasing substantially in real-world discussions as well, mostly in terms of accuracy. Perhaps because of the really poor standard online discourse has been set over the last decade. Person A can say the same BS both in an online or a real life, and person B can judge the claim/reasoning too in both scenarios. Person A can also feel "really" sucky after an online interaction.

Proving/disproving a claim/assertion/conclusion requires reasoning, time, experience and a real willingness to reach The Truth. It is a constant effort towards excellence. Those elements are often missing, for varied reasons. Lack of time or resources, a vertiginous endless flow of information, unpreparedness to deal with a complex reality, lack of tools to analyze and judge a situation…Very few people seek straight manipulation. In some occasions, people misbehave, but it often occurs in contexts of polarization or hot/anarchic discussing. What there exist, are many people with huge egos, who have been equipped with a loudspeaker with unlimited volume power.

I (want to) believe that most of the online discourses that “suck” are a consequence of one of the most prosaic, deeply rooted in human nature, bad habits: lack of humility. The stupid/unprepared/unexperienced in a certain topic are cocksure; the intelligent/prepared/experienced are full of doubt, or not heard at all within the chaos and noise. Lies/misinformation ends up creating frustration (or even worse, conflicts). There was a time in which prestige, experience and knowledge were respected and trusted.

The difference is subtle, but it is less a matter of disincentivizing person A from displaying a poor way of discoursing, and more of vesting auctoritas in person B when she has consistently proved to deserve it. Drawing a parallelism, it is less of telling person A to shut up and go home, and more of letting person A know, “hey, listen to person B, she is closer to this”. Technology created an issue, technology must provide a solution :). This is what I found appealing about TrueStory!


#14

you said this better than I could have said it. :100: agree.


#15

I made the argument that online discourse sucks because there is people resort to name-calling when there is no objective argument underneath to dispute or validate.

Your argument is that it sucks because the very nature of an argument between an ignorant person and an expert. The ignorant person is lazy and confident. The expert is well-reasoned, skeptical, and doesn’t get heard out. That for online discourse to improve, it’s less a matter of disincentivizing ignorant people from spreading lies and more about giving credibility to those who know what they’re talking about.

I had never thought about it like that. Good point. I think we’re approaching this from different sides but arrive at the same conclusion. It’s about equipping “experts” with credibility.

One subtlety I want to bring up is that the token TruStory is uses that disincentivizes people from posting false claims/ ignorant people from posting claims also serves as reputation for those who do know what they’re talking about / experts.


#16

The majority of people in crypto are in it hoping to be a part of a get rich quick scheme. They hear over and over about Bitcoin’s success and dump money into projects hoping to strike gold. People then display fierce tribalism and only vouch for the projects they invested in. This creates a poor learning environment and turns off many new joiners looking to get their feet wet in the space. In a lot of online forums, there is a feeling that you are in an echo chamber and everybody keeps repeating the same things over and over. I think people exhibit groupthink and are scared to look at potential flaws/risks with fear of failure.

There needs to be more of a focus on the technology rather than the price. By allowing for more discussions around pros and cons the overall communities would emerge far more educated. I think given that the space is so new it will take time for the many projects to develop further and have working products. As the space matures, I’m hoping that the use cases will become more obvious for the mainstream and people will feel more knowledgeable and comfortable when debating.

I think long term it will improve over time as people will realize that multiple projects can co-exist in the long run, not just the ones they own.


#17

I appreciate this nuanced reply, thank you! Well put, and I guess I see it as additive; not so much a difference opinion.

As you point out, the lack of humility is our culprit here. I agree. The question, in my opinion, then shifts to if this lack of humility is innate in person-to-person/real life interaction, innate in online discourse, or a learned behavior in either venue. I agree that there is a devolution of humility in public discourse as well (see: 45, woof). But I also feel that to answer the question of “Why does online discourse suck so much?” we must be willing to examine the conditions that are specific to online discourse and see whether they permit users to learn that online spaces don’t contain the social humility cues we’ve so painstakingly tried to reinforce IRL.

I think you’re right to look back at the degrading of discourse, polarization of opinions and growing lack of humility happening in interpersonal relationships. I’d argue we’re losing our grip on the disincentives to such behavior in the real world because its been thrown into question by the frontier-like free-for-all that is online discourse. It is, after all, where we spend the majority of our attention these days.

My hope here is that iterating towards better online spaces can wrangle this Wild West.


#18

Great discussion! Myself I believe most sites facilitate this. By limiting the size and the difficulty to truly debate it doesn’t really allow the discussion to evolve. This keeps people coming back to get in that last dig and see another add.