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Does the internet degrades political debate?

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Dec 13, 2008
My main worry are the echo chambers, or rather, that everything on the internet tends to either become an echo chamber or somehow devolve into the lowest form of "team picking".
I think GAF is better at this than the rest of the internet I know, but not immune.
This is a legitimate question, not a rhetorical one, though it is obviously that I am leaning torwards the "yes" right now. Ok, here are my arguments/concerns/questions:
(also, sorry if my language is confusing, I'll blame the fact that I learned english from videogames)
Argument 1:
Now, I know that life outside the internet create very powerful echo chambers, too (a community with little diversity is an echo chamber by itself) and the internet, like any media, can help people see beyond that and learn about other stuff, and so on. But the internet is almost tailor-made so you can create your own personalized echo chamber: you choose exactly which websites you go to (and most of the political sites out there have a clear, distinct view).

A place like GAF, for example, is not even a political site, but it can't escape make political choices. It bans homophobes, racists and the like. This is good and unavoidable; to pretend you don't have a political stance usually means you are just not exercising critical thinking torwards your political stance. GAF is a nice place on the internet because it is a safe place, we have a very diverse community and so any political stance that is against diversity (which unfortunetly is more mainstream than it should be) gets kicked out. Hence, it becomes a type of echo chamber.

This is not to say NeoGAF is evil and out to impose a political agenda, but it is to make the point that, given that communities are inherently political, a sort of natural selection occurs; either people who think differently just phases out and stays away from the discussion because a debate is, after all, a hostile environment where someone is attacking your beliefs, or they get outright banned when their political view go to the extreme of making some members of our diverse community feel threatened somehow.

So, tl;dr on argument 1:
Even without a moderation, people tend to stick to places where other people think alike, therefore, websites (unlike, say, network television or newspapers that, at least in theory, want to please everyone) organically turn into echo chambers. You add moderation, even good, well-meaning, honest moderation, and it increases that.


Argument 2:
Popular websites like Facebook and Twitter focus on messages with the smallest content possible; that does not decreases at all these messages' need for maximum exposure, not only that, the internet gives the most exposure to messages that people can react to, because they can - and usually want to - link to messages that they can comment, even if the comment is just "this is a horrible message!"; therefore, they tend to be messages that convey shock or outrage with little to no substance.

A lot is being said about Trump being an ideal twitter candidate. He says explosive stuff, gives no explanation or detail and the absurdity of what he said - plus his position, first, as a celebrity, then as a candidate in the primaries and now as leader of the GOP in the GE - make sure that you can't ignore it; so you are forced to spread it if only to debate it, but there isn't much to debate because the messages have little to no substance, therefore the only possible reaction is either a structural analysis of the society that generated someone like Trump or expressions of varying degrees of "I enjoyed this message" or "I did not enjoyed this message"; either way, you are not debating the message because there is nothing to debate.

Now, Trump is an extreme example because of his current status, but the entire internet functions a lot like this. Explosive message with no argument where you either like, don't like or go out of the way to talk about the context arround the message because the message itself doesn't lead to discussion.
The fad now on my facebook is this: someone says something people like, some loud music blasts, the pixelated "deal with it" sunglasses comes down, end of the 1 minute video.
It is designed to not generate discussion or debate. Literally half the running time of these already short clips is loud music and "deal with it", the message itself is often just one witty sentence, which is the language of comedy and not political discourse. Of course comedy and political discourse can both exist at the same time (and they do through history), but on sites like Facebook and Twitter, the quick reaction (laughter, disgust, cherring and so on) is the majority of the content. The actual substance is either non-existent, assumed to already be part of the formation of the people watching the video or somewhere else, on another website, meaning that someone who does not take the time to search for the substance of these messages will just not have it; leaving them with the base feeling: they laugh, they feel outraged, they cheer, and so on.

tl;dr Argument 2:
Twitter and Facebook turn what used to be the side-dish of political discourse - the quick political cartoon or the witty one-liner - and turn it on the main vehicle for ideas. Since they can't convey ideas by itself, you are either left confused and/or feeling "something" depending on how you usually feel when faced by ideas similar to what the quick message appears to be conveying.
Argument 3:
I don't know if the above leads to (or feeds) the following or is a consequence of the following, but here is the following:
There is no trying to change people's minds and there is little attempt at education. Outrage and attacks at the opposing side become the main dish.
Now, I understand that there is a lot of concern-trolling going on. People who are just politely "asking questions" (and I hope this thread doesn't look like that), but are actually using it as a smoke-screen to argue against you.
If you realize you are against someone who is not interested in learning or debating and is just "asking questions" as a way to attack your views without hearing your side, then there is really no trying to change that person's mind.
But it seems like the internet turns this notion into a pre-emptive attack: you start by being outraged that someone disagrees and then through dialogue, maybe tone it down when you realize that, in fact, the person is not concern trolling; that she is, actually, concerned (I am guilty of this a lot, part of this thread is trying to figure out if it is a problem of the medium, of myself or a mix of both).
And while there is a side to political debate that is inherently hostile - someone holds a position dear enough to vote for a president and then you go and say that position is harmful to society - the window to actually talking and debating seems smaller as the echo chambers solidify your internet experience.

At the end, it looks like two sides shouting at each other, not willing to hear the other side. And you can't quite back down, because there is no evidence that, by backing down, the other side will indeed listen instead of keep shouting over you. So, there is this feeling of hopelesness that some people... you just kind of give up on them. But isn't that sad? Isn't it a problem? That you just give up on a lot of people and put them on a list of "people I disagree with and oh well that's life I hope they don't vote or that they are not numerous"?

tl;dr Argument 3
I know at one point, you have to accept people will disagree with you, but does the internet feed into a notion that everyone already made up their minds and all that is left is to attack them?

I often feel dialogue is simply impossible. I can't talk to someone who opposes my views unless I attack them because all the information I have about these people - the memes, the 1-minute videos, the short twits, the links to extremist websites (at least those have words enough you can argue against) - is that they fucking hate everything I stand for. And if they fucking hate me and are not interested in talking to me, then they, too, become someone I fucking hate and am not interested in talking to.
Does it end somewhere? Am I the problem here?
The internet seems to fuel "my side versus yours" mentality.
On one hand, it creates echo chambers organically; it is not an evil design, it's just how the media works.
On another hand, the more "public" spaces (Facebook and Twitter), thrive on quick, shallow messages where your instance is often just automatically agree or disagree based on the opinions you already hold.
These two feed into the mentality that conversation is impossible. You either already agrees with someone or already disagrees with someone and neither will change, so there's no actual conversation to be had, only hoping for a victory each time an issue pops up.

I want to discuss this GAF.
Right now is either the best time or the worst time to have this conversation, but just like Radio and TV changed how people talked about politics, we will have to talk about how the internet is shaping our minds - and not just in a strategical way of "how to use the internet to win", but in a critical way of "is the internet harming the way I think and talk about these issues? Is it helping?" and so on.


May 28, 2013
St. Ivalice
Uninformed and willfully ignorant people will degrade a debate. The internet is a catalyst for this.

EDIT: disingenuous people and those with ulterior motives will also degrade a debate.
Aug 22, 2014
No. But just like offline you have to find designated places for legitimate debate. Trying to debate on any random Internet forum is about the equivalent of trying to debate in a crowded mall where anyone can interrupt.


Jun 11, 2004
I really don't buy it. Human cognitive biases are wired to want their opinions and values confirmed and will overwhelmingly want to discuss and decide things based on simple emotion rather than hard, time consuming and difficult research and deep thinking. This means that humans are wired to want to create an echo chamber based on emotion and it has been so since we've existed.

This was true for people back in the 1800s and is true for people today. People back then could easily wall themselves off in their own echo chamber with newspapers and articles specifically geared to their point of view. And let me tell you, many of those political newspapers back then are some insanely biased, vile, and outrageously emotional shit. The people they interacted with probably also shared their own views as well because people make friends and relatives in the same social and economic groups. And it was more difficult than it is now to interact with people outside your social and economic group than it is now.

Ray Wonder

Founder of the Wounded Tagless Children
Sep 4, 2013
Uninformed and willfully ignorant people will degrade a debate. The internet is a catalyst for this.

No one is correct about everything though. There may be facets of what you believe to be informed and infallible, but are actually wrong. I would say neither the furthest left or the furthest right person, politically, is fully correct. There's room for debate, but both sides call the other side willfully ignorant, and refuse to accept that they're not actually the worst people on earth.

Inevitably leading a lot of arguments to stalemates of "You're just a criminal sympathizing libtard/You're a bigoted racist"
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