Internet discussions and posts, within and outside academia, are a unique means for freely exchanging opinions. However, have you ever noticed how violent, valueless and frustrating they can be?
I bring a few suggestions on what we all could do to turn the challenges of cybernetic freedom of speech into opportunities. Here are some do’s and don’ts of internet debates.
- Go anonymous. Beware that, even with the best intentions, going anonymous makes your point irrelevant. Anonymity also makes some people feel exceedingly daring and confident — they direct offensive posts at journalists of large newspapers, there is ‘trolling’, and I have also noticed some unkind comments left on Resource blogs.
- I am also disturbed by those who use the expression ‘it’s my opinion’ as a closing remark on a topic. Acknowledging that ‘it is your opinion’ does not automatically make it right. It is just a superfluous tautology… If you know what I mean.
- Similarly, try not to say ‘If you like/don’t like this (item of discussion) it is because you don’t understand it’. Even on students’ debates, your own intellectual dictatorship should not extend beyond yourself and whoever submits to it freely.
- Beware of cultural barriers. The internet abolishes distances and social norms that regulate contextual debates. People of different backgrounds and beliefs can instantly exchange opinions. The shortening of distances and the lowering of some barriers, however, does not mean that culture is not an element to the debate.
- By the same token, do mind your and others’ standpoint. On the post of a feminist civil servant of an article in Science, a surgeon can respond to an agronomist that responds to a catholic priest…. This ratatouille of perspectives can be a powerful source of change, as long as everyone who intervenes declares where they are coming from. Otherwise, how could we ever tell someone ‘I see where you are coming from’?
- Finally, be careful where you put your energy and time. At this very moment, thousands of users in the Netherlands alone are spending warm summer days indoors, writing comments on the internet out of frustration and boredom.
It might be just my opinion, but these few precautions would make internet a better place. If you decide to do give a damn for a change, and leave the ranks of this army of frustrated/alienated ‘online citizens’, then surf with purpose and enjoy the rest of the summer!