It is feasible to have a sensible discussion online. It doesn't happen much, however, and I'm not entirely sure that it ever did.
Photo: jon collier
I wrote an opinion piece yesterday on Apple's Lightning cables that, well, to be honest exploded a lot more than I thought it actually would. I'm not intending to rehash that argument here, but hey, do whatever you like with it. I've said my bit.
What it did remind me of, however, was that one of the great liberations of being online is that it gives people licence to discuss, debate, and wherever they feel it necessary, be utter jerks to each other. I mean, it's not like you're actually in the room with the person, or indeed if you're ever likely to have any kind of ongoing social interaction with them, so why not let rip when you need to?
It's tempting to think that things used to be better, but I'm not entirely convinced that's true. I can recall back in the early 1990s getting online for the first time (via my girlfriend's university account, because net access was rare back then) and usenet having more than its fair share of trolls, abusers and those who just looked to stir up trouble. It's something that's been online for a long, long time.
Lest this be seen as author whinging, I accept that if I write an opinion piece that people will disagree with me. It's part and parcel of the job, and it always has been for as long as I've been a journalist. In fact, I welcome a bit of dissent; the world would be a rather boring place if there was only one point of view.
The thing is, Gizmodo is a great site, and one that I've personally invested a lot of time in. If you're a regular reader, so have you. Comments -- and reasonable comments -- make for great discussion. Straight outright abuse simply doesn't, and never would.
Consider walking into a room and upon spotting someone you disagreed with, going up to them and formulating why you disagree. You might not come away at an accord, but you'll have a worthwhile discussion. Whereas if you wander up to that person and simply say "You're an idiot/retarded/so EXPLETIVE" (or whatever), you're not likely to actually get far with the conversation.
Actually most people wouldn't go that far, because we tend to act differently online anyway. But I think that makes the point I'm trying to get across.
I'm probably spitting into the wind here, but the comment culture at Gizmodo can be productive while being combatative, or it can be toxic and circular. That's very much up to the commenters themselves, however; there's only so much comment moderation can do before it stifles debate.
Now, before I bring things down any further, and for the tl;dr crowd, have a random picture of a Hippo. Try debating that.