Civil, respectful, fast-based discussion. That’s the goal.
So if that’s what we want, why do so many online comment threads get completely out of hand?
Read this thoughtful, realistic article by Bora Zivkovic for some insights.
A couple of weeks ago, an article was published in Science about online science communication (nothing new there, really, that we have not known for a decade, but academia is slow to catch up). But what was interesting in it, and what everyone else jumped on, was a brief mention of a conference presentation that will be published soon in a journal. It is about the effect of the tone of comments on the response of other readers to the article on which the comments appear.
Instead of “silent” participation leading gradually to more active participation as one becomes more comfortable with the site, it seems the opposite is happening: mildly active users are now becoming silent users as it is easier to click “Share on Facebook” than to post a brief comment.
But there is another problem here – most of the good, nice, constructive commenters may have gone silent and taken their discussions of your blog elsewhere, but the remaining few commenters are essentially trolls.
Uncivil, aggressive comments resulted in quick polarization. Readers, although still not well informed about the topic, quickly adopted strong opinions about it.
So trolls not only stifle discusion, they can drive readers to form polarized opinions that they did not hold previously.
Not a good situation, in my opinion, for helping people come to important decisions.
More and more, I’m finding that this quote attributed to Danial Moynihan is a helpful compass.
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.