A funny thing happened to me on Twitter yesterday: I had a really interesting conversation with a bunch of tweeps about GM crops and food. It was interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly it was respectful. Secondly, it evolved naturally over the course of the conversation and explored several dimensions of the issue. And thirdly, I learned something new and my view adjusted as a consequence.

Perhaps the other interesting thing is that the conversation sprang, dare I say organically, in response to a rather snarky tweet from me about the science of climate change and the science of GM crops. Despite the tone of my initial tweet, there were ten people nevertheless willing to engage me in a serious and respectful manner on the issue.

Two weeks ago it was a different story. I participated in an online event that discussed the same topic. While some people tried to have a sensible conversation, others turned up merely to troll. The event ended up as something slightly less edifying than a shouting match.

Similar shouty behaviour last night (concerning the relative wisdom of nuclear power) and this morning (concerning the relative wisdom of Andrew Bolt) have led me to think it’s such a shame we don’t use the amazing platforms provided to us by Twitter and blogs to respectfully explore each other’s views.

As a blogger I’m familiar with the online writers’ creed that one must never read the comments for fear of losing oneself in a spiral of self-doubt and despair (or some such).

But I WANT to read the comments: they show me what other people think about the issues that are of interest to me. Sadly, much of the commentary is shoutiness too, which is a sure-fired way to make me retreat and hold even more firmly to my own point of view. Nonetheless, there are other comments that help me better understand and evolve my own views. I value that exchange because I’ve realised that “In the act of blogging, I am written”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m surprised most of us like to indulge in a game of “Extreme Rhetoric” on the twitters every now and then. Even I do.

You don’t have to be a sociologist to understand how or why this game has emerged. It’s a natural extension of the he said/she said dichotomy being deployed by mainstream media outlets to create fodder for the insatiable 24/7 news media cycle.

While on the one hand we deplore the distortion and disunity that this tabloid journalistic approach wreaks, we’re not above using it ourselves to score a point or two when engaging online.

So, what to do, what to do? Perhaps we should stop getting so angry for a start. Shouting at or about someone is never going to change their mind.

Instead of bemoaning the diminished state of so-called “discussion” programs like Q&A, The Insiders and Contrarians, let’s just accept them for what they are: political Punch and Judy shows.

Instead of clenching fists, gritting teeth and sending shouty tweets about the latest bout of Extreme Rhetoric, why not laugh and enjoy the staged pugilism for what it is: tabloid entertainment and nothing more.

Don’t look to those platforms for genuine exploration and discussion of the issues – you’ll not find it there. Look elsewhere, and if you can’t find it, then do it yourself.

Just start a civilised conversation and take it from there. There’s a whole world of interested people online just waiting for you to do so.

Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. If only there were more of your ilk Dragonista, we all might learn something. Shouting down people with opposing views doesn’t do anyone any good. Engaging in reasonable debate is more likely to achieve positive outcomes.

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  2. One of my early interactions with a young chappy from the States,well lets just say he was very passionate about goings on in the Middle East.Once I suggested to him that they should all sit down with a cuppa and some of Flos scones,well he didnt know what to Tweet.Nor what to make of me,a Ghost of sorts.I have always found laughter to be great tool in the “War on Shouting”,I know I cant save the World on Twitter,but I can make it a Funnier medium.

    Anyho Toodle Pip

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  3. I think that’s what blogs are *idealy* for. Intelligent discourse. And most of the blogs I frequent (such as yours) nurture and encourage respectful conversation (or in some cases respectful spontaneous combustion) with each other, where, shock of all horrors I find that we actually learn from each other, who knew you could use the internet that way?

    I suppose for me twitter is like a coffee or drinks with “friends”. So sometimes it can get pretty bawdy or loud and shouty. Most of the time it’s freakin hilarious. Blogs are like dinner with friends. One is a little more midful of what one says when they have more than 140 characters in a more ‘private’ space. (At least, in the blog circles in which I move.) Not that they don’t have their fair share of shouty trolls. But it gets nipped in the bud much much quicker.

    Although I am not so sure any of what I just said makes sense. I have exceeded my daily qutoa of caffeine. Time for me to walk away from the cofee pot.

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  4. Great post as always, Drag0nista. And here I thought I was the only one who liked to read the comments to see what other people think.

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  5. Actually I think #qanda could be good if they got better guests more regularly and enforced better rules of debate. The episode with geoffery robertson was a fantastic panel and a great discussion, although I have a vague recollection on Tony being surprised and slightly disaapointed when they all basically agreed on a particular issue.

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  6. where’s the bloody fun in that?
    what the hell is the internets for if not lies and vitriol?
    If we start taking it seriously what will we do with all these books?
    nah. kidding.
    I scream at Bolt and Devine and Ackerman and Jones and Ilk just to know I’m alive.
    I think it’s the same reason people cut themselves.
    (thanks for sharing)

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  7. One of the reasons I rarely get involved in online discussions, and have withdrawn from posting or commenting on articles on most sites is that the discussions invariably turn into straight out arguments that invovle personal abuse and provide no contribution to the debate on the issue at hand.

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About Drag0nista

Political blogger and columnist on the interwebs. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989. Otherwise known as Paula Matthewson.

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