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Conversation 19 comments by 9 users
  • skolor
    +19

    Ah yes, I'm sure this will go over well.

    Its a tough situation to be in. Its not comments at a single site that are getting more polarized, it seems like the internet as a whole is getting more polarized. It isn't just this website (Is the Verge actually a thing? I've vaguely heard of them before, but I'm not sure I've ever actually been to the site before, and likely won't be back again), look at Reddit right now vs Digg towards its end. Sure, Digg users were an angry, unruly mob, but there weren't the same level of attacks against the Digg staff (although I do remember some hate for Kevin Rose) or the same just ugliness.

    Once you've created two highly polarized groups, how do you get them to see eye to eye? US politics are a good example. Even if the runner-ups in the Democratic and Republican primaries decide to run together as independents, I'm not sure they would even put a dent into the overall outcomes. At some point, the Other People are just crazies who don't think right (and I'm sure you know people on both sides of the political spectrum who feel that way), and how can you talk with a crazy person?

    The conspiracy theory-loving side of me suspects this is intentional. If you make groups polarized enough, people will segregate themselves into groups that only talk to each other and are more easy to manipulate that way. The more rational side says that this is an effect of the internet creating naturally forming echo chambers, causing the participants to become more and more polarized in their views. Regardless of the cause, this will probably be the thing that I complain about when I get old: "Back in my day we could discuss our favorite soda brand without it ending up with someone getting disintegrated."

    • Calcipher
      +8

      look at Reddit right now vs Digg

      I think one big difference is the size and reach of the two communities. Digg was huge for its time, but I'm guessing Reddit is far larger than Digg ever was. Further Reddit has a larger presence in the mainstream media. Both of these differences are mostly due to Digg's and Reddit's respective places in time. Since Reddit is larger than Digg was, the angry percentage of users seems so much louder.

      I also think the structure of Reddit, its greater reliance on the users to craft the experience of Reddit, lends to well-meaning, passionate people who just want to feel like the business side of Reddit values and respects them. Unfortunately, passion is easy to twist into anger.

      • ObiWanShinobi
        +7

        I was there during the great transition from Digg to Reddit, and Reddit was a lot smaller back then, but it was still on par with Digg. Now, I see Reddit referenced by mainsteam media all the time, which is something I never remember happening to Digg.

        At least on my part, I was very disappointed to hear about the censorship going on at Reddit, especially at the hands of the admins. I know, as a corporation they have no obligation to uphold free speech, but after so many years of free speech, it just suddenly changed and I think a lot of other redditors who had come to expect uncensored speech are also angry about that.

        • Calcipher
          +6

          I agree with that. We desperately need public spaces for ideas on the internet and the censorship was profoundly sad even if I didn't like the speech. I know the anger is justified, but perhaps the ugliness was not.

          • ObiWanShinobi
            +3

            You seem like a reasonable person. That is my exact stance on free speech. I might not support what some people say, but by god I will support their right to say it.

        • Kalysta
          +5

          But there seems a vast difference in the types of speech from when I joined reddit after the Digg fiasco, to today. Early reddit, people had a say, but it was fairly sensible, thoughtful discussion. At the end it seemed full of racist, sexist, hate speech, and if people were downvoted due to the hate speech not contributing at all to a discussion, you got people raging about being censored. And most of the sites I visit seem to have turned into this. One person says something crazy and hateful, they're called out for being racist, then they scream about being censored, like freedom of speech means they don't have to deal with the social consequences of holding hateful views. And I see this everywhere, not just reddit. I backed away from Voat quickly because this was all I was reading there. Yesterday my cousin posted a rant that we weren't allowed to judge her for being against gay marriage because it's just an opinion, and you should be able to freely (ie without any consequences) express opinions.

          When did this become a thing? Why did this become a thing?

          • ObiWanShinobi (edited 3 years ago)
            +2

            It's just a case of a larger crowd holding more diverse opinions. The nature of reddit allowed for small (or large) clubs of people with similar interests, is it so strange that it eventually drew people with interests that are distasteful?

            At the same time, hate speech and distasteful opinions are different beasts, and people were getting censored, their little, private clubs stamped out, with no proper outlet to vent their frustration or complain. It was just done without even an announcement till people started speaking up.

            Yesterday my cousin posted a rant that we weren't allowed to judge her for being against gay marriage because it's just an opinion, and you should be able to freely (ie without any consequences) express opinions.

            She's right. Well, I mean, half right. You can judge your cousin all you want for being against gay marriage, but she has the right to that opinion, just as you have the right to your opinions on that opinion.

            She also might be mistaking the freedom to express an opinion with the privilege of not being called on a shitty opinion, which are also two very different things. If she wanted to express these opinions without criticism, maybe she could go to a subreddit for that... Oh wait, no they banned some of those.

            As far as I'm concerned, Reddit has outlined itself as a non Free Speech supporting platform. If people want to hate fat people, but do it privately in their own subreddit, without actually trying to attack or threaten anyone, where is the harm in that? If there was doxing, that was wrong, and the people behind it should have been banned, not the whole subreddit.

            • Nerdeiro
              +2

              She also might be mistaking the freedom to express an opinion with the privilege of not being called on a shitty opinion, which are also two very different things.

              When me and my siblings were kids, Mom always said to us "You said what you wanted and heard what you didn't" after calling us on our bullshit. But seems people today developed an aversion to this. Disagreement is frowned and even attacked, no one seems interested in debate, discussion or exchange of ideas. It's either blind agreement or open conflict, usually resorting to claims of emotional injury.

              I'm 41, I always tried to keep my mind fresh and young, follow the changes in the world like I was 15, but I think age is finally catching up with me, because I can't stop asking "What the hell is happening with world ?"

        • FurtWigglepants
          +2

          What censorship are you talking about?

          • ObiWanShinobi (edited 3 years ago)
            +3

            People have been shadowbanned or expressing their opinion that Ellen Pao should be fired. Former moderator's posts about the corporate end of Reddit have been deleted. Entire subreddits that weren't actually doing anything wrong, and shouldn't even have been on the ban list for the reasons the Admins said they got banned for disappeared. It's the main reason Snapzu and Voat are seeing all these new users. Reddit is eating itself.

    • ObiWanShinobi (edited 3 years ago)
      +8

      The more rational side says that this is an effect of the internet creating naturally forming echo chambers, causing the participants to become more and more polarized in their views.

      I think you hit the nail on the head. This is definitely a side effect of the internet itself. People with common values used to be separated by geography. Now I can communicate with fans of almost anything, no matter how minute, across the entire world. These communities form from like-minded people that slowly become more and more insular, since it was a community created for the purpose of expressing certain thoughts, so different opinions, and dissenting discussions are not welcome, seen as raining on their parade, invading their "safe spaces" if you will.

      Then the whole Us vs. Them mindset takes over, and those people with the different opinions are the enemy. Happens with political parties, social causes, etc. I've seen LGBT "safe spaces" rail on about how gay men must be gay because of the patriarchy and their hatred of women. It's so weird. Eventually all these little groups just keep eating themselves, sacrificing the most dissenting opinions in return for recognition as a remover of those who would obstruct their cause. Repeat ad nauseum.

      Also, from the article:

      COMMENTS WILL BE BACK. FREEDOM LASTS FOREVER.

      "Except when we find the discussion a bit too hot to handle, then we turn them off. Could happen again, who knows. Those terrible Gamergaters might strike again."

      • skolor
        +6

        I've put altogether far too much thought in how to combat this phenomenon, and I have yet to come up with a good solution. It seems like the internet leads to extremism, when you would think from the initial concept it would be the opposite. Now I can talk to anyone, instantly, at absolutely no cost. I would expect that to lead to more rational communication, where you get large numbers of people who disagree with each other conversing together. Instead, you end up with billions of tiny communities that are completely insular.

        The best I can come up with is to encourage people to make a conscious effort to talk with people who disagree with them, and not just to prove them wrong. Try to include people you think are "wrong" about a topic you care about in the conversation, as long as they can keep from being shrill and yelling about it. The worst case scenario is you end up changing your mind about the topic. The issue is this doesn't scale. I can do it personally (and I try to, as painful as it is sometimes), but how do I get more people to do this?

        • ObiWanShinobi (edited 3 years ago)
          +4

          Your second paragraph is, I think, the only way we can combat debate extremism on the internet. Changing your mind is not necessarily back-sliding or folding, but can be the synthesis of this view-challenging information into a new, stronger and hopefully more informed and worldly opinion.

        • GroundType
          +2

          ...as long as they can keep from being shrill and yelling about it.

          Isn't this what's usually referred to as "tone-policing?" Is that a valid complaint? I have no problem with it, as I don't think you can have a reasonable discussion if someone is being shrill and antagonistic. But, I have been accused of tone-policing in private discussions and then all conversation just stops.

          ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          • skolor
            +1

            It's complicated. On the one hand, telling someone they're being shrill is very much an ad hominem argument. On the other hand, at some point it stops getting a discussion and just becomes people yelling at each other.

            I really don't have a perfect answer. All I know is a see more and more people yelling at each other to score points with their side rather than trying to convince anyone about the topic at hand, which is making public discussion go downhill.

    • BarnyardOwl (edited 3 years ago)
      +5

      it seems like the internet as a whole is getting more polarized

      Tom Scott gave an awesome talk on this topic.

      Edit: Typo

      • skolor
        +5

        Holy crap that's frightening. I've thought about similar things before, but he puts it into words much better than I would have.

        Its more than a little discouraging though that he doesn't really talk about what to do about it. He says that right now people over-react to quickly, and that we'll be quickly moving to not just an overreaction in hours, but in real time. That instead of "ShirtGate" or a "Dongle Joke", we'll have people enraged in real time, with methods for interacting with the situation. Its discouraging to hear someone talk about something that I fear we're approaching fairly quickly, and yet not have a single answer, and even sound somewhat excited to see it happen.

        I'm a fairly big fan of Magic: The Gathering, and we've actually had this crop up a few times recently. Magic tournaments, today, get fairly large, a Pro Tour event is invite only, and draws about 250-350 players (I believe they're on the lower end now due to some recent changes, but I'm not sure). Grand Prix events, an open invitation tournament which awards Pro Tour invitations in addition to other prizes regularly draw 2000 players. These tournaments also get lived streamed, with a handful of players chosen every round to play on camera in front of thousands of players.

        Unfortunately, I can't find a good source for it, but in the past year there was an incident at a Pro Tour in which a player did something suspicious and it was originally ruled to be an accident, but after several players approached the head judge (after it was loudly discussed on Twitter, of course), the decision was reversed and the player disqualified from the event (I believe this was Filipe at the PT in April, but I can't find a source for this other than my memory at the time). More recently, a player was in the top-8 of a 2800 player tournament spark outrage because he was a convicted sex offender. He was convicted of a terrible rape case a decade ago and has since served the time he was sentenced. After someone turned this up on the stream, much outraged was formed, and he currently has a lifetime ban from organized play of the game.

        At the same time, a lot of people are confronting the fact that government organizations are sucking up as much data about everyone as they can get their hands on. Despite the dangers of that, it's the point not too far in the future when the sort of data available just to organizations with billion dollar black budgets is available to the normal consumer that really scares me. 20 years ago spokeo would have blown people's minds. A decade from now, I fully expect for $30 I can get a dozen internet handles for any given individual, along with an autogenerated list of posts that person has made that may spark controversy. Maybe I'll even be able to get real time data on the person, such as location or even a video feed. The ability to incite rage against a person will never have been this strong, and I suspect it will only get worse.

        I completely agree with Tim Scott: this will only get faster, and it scare the shit out of me.

    • cpt
      +3

      Don't be so quick to call yourself a conspiracy theorist! It's called Market Segmentation. Related: Brand Tribalism. It's the status quo for any organization that reaches such a massive scale.

      I don't know about the Verge, though, haha--I'm with you in only ever having peripherally heard of the site.

      • skolor
        +3

        The conspiracy theory part is that people are doing it to manipulate culture as a whole, not just to drive their own traffic. It's been popular to segment political groups for quite a while, but I could almost see the GameGate/Anti-GG situation being an intentional manipulation to drive further polarization of the internet. I've seen both sides make good points only to get screamed down by mostly outsiders in the conversation.

        It makes me suspicious whenever someone is loud in a community about anything negative and has not been a long-term member.