These are just some random reflections based on my recent experiences with debates on Twitter, Youtube and co. I don’t actually have good ideas for how incentives for real engagement in debates could look like, but since Twitter and co are not going away any time soon, we might need them.
The good thing about Twitter is that you can break out of your filter bubble, that you can directly engage with the opposing side, something which is not necessariliy the case on Facebook and something which has value in times of increasing partizan divide.
However, the attitude in discussions seems to become more and more “Trumpian”: You don’t actually engage with the other side’s arguments, instead you either
- move on and ignore, optionally block him/her,
- just make something up, no matter how ridiculous and when asked for a source, you tell your opponent to “Google it for themselves”
- Or you throw out an animated gif, which is commonly referred to as “meme”, (even though that’s decidedly not what Dawkins had in mind, when he invented the term), whose main purpose is to ridicule and humiliate the other side…
A small illustration to make it a bit clearer: I found a posting, claiming that Clinton won just 51 counties and won the popular vote by only 1.5 million. Both number are demonstrably false. So I responded, provided a source and instead of a response disputing the figures, two accounts posted gifs, one a photo of Trump claiming that his accusers are all pedophiles, and the other saying something derogatory about liberals. Both had zero to do with the question under discussion.
In my experience, this style of “non-discussion” is becoming more and more frequent. More and more posters just ignore whatever their opponent says, throw out something that is likely to provoke an angry response and distracts from the actual topic, so that any dispute on the issue itself becomes just impossible.
I don’t think that there really can be any technical solution to this, no algorithm can or should determine whether your response is on topic, still I wonder what can be done to incentivise real engagement instead of just throwing shit at each other. I do think that one should look into wheather the way Twitter operates rewards this kind of behaviour, or whether Twitter becoming more and more of a cesspool is a consequence of the fact that you have a platform where all political camps, all ethnicitiy, all geographies, all population groups around the world meet, and it is only natural that herd mentality makes them group into tribes which keep waging war on each other, because this tribal mentality is just something evolution has built into all of us… And when you are limited to 288 characters, quick ambushes are easier to wage than thoughtful arguments.