The open debate and discussion of ideas and issues within society has been around for thousands of years. The Talmud is a wonderful record of the development of Jewish law through robust debate amongst the scholars of the time. The right to free speech, enshrined in so many Western societies, respects the right of everyone to express their opinion even though others may disagree.
As technology developed, our ability as a society to debate and discuss became easier. Distance was no longer a barrier, and broadcast media such as newspapers and television were able to disseminate ideas to the masses.
With the advent of the internet, media has been truly democratized. User generated content – the printed word, audio, video, and all combinations – is everywhere. With this revolution, one would have thought that this shrinking of the world and explosion of freely accessible content would have had a positive effect on society’s ability to debate.
But alas, the reverse has happened.
Rather than opening the floodgates for interaction and debate on a global scale, what has happened instead is a global partisan fracturing of media of all kinds, to the point that there are very few diverse platforms for debate any more.
Just like CNN & FOX have become biased news sources with little tolerance for counterpoint views, the entire internet has been littered with sites, blogs, and social media pages dedicated to or aligned with specific views that preach to the converted with zero tolerance for dissent.
Commenters who challenge the views presented are often shot down, abused and personally attacked by resident “locals” – sometimes sockpuppets – and quickly bullied to the point that there is no real debate. I’ve seen this first hand on a variety of sites.
Rather than being a force to unite diversity and for people to learn about others and form views through constructive debate, the internet has instead facilitated greater divisiveness in society than ever before.
Of course, I’m happy to debate this conclusion …