Discussion Topic for Tuesday, September 6, 2005
Ok, here’s a thought experiment.
Suppose you’re some average American. Maybe you’re an insurance salesman or a mid-level manager, or a school teacher, or a carpenter. You’re affluent enough to own a computer, you know how to surf the net. Life is busy. You have a spouse, a kid or two, a mortgage, responsibilities. You try to keep up with politics but it’s hard. You watch a bit of tv news, you read the paper. A lot of your opinions are formed by conversations with people you respect, parents, your spouse, your minister, friends. Maybe you voted for Bush, maybe not, but he’s the President and you were raised to respect the office, to give its occupant the benefit of the doubt. Like most Americans you tend to identify yourself more as a conservative and you’re definitely a patriot. But lately…you’re not so sure about how things are going in the country.
You decide to educate yourself a bit more. You know things aren’t doing so well in Iraq so you decide to research the situation. You do a Google search and find yourself at a site called Today in Iraq.
It’s clear from the get-go that the people here are not Bush supporters and they are definitely pissed about the war. But they also seem to have an awful lot of factual information. You read around a little, shaking your head – you had no idea how bad it was. And then you take a look at the Comments.
People are making some awfully strong statements. And a lot of these statements seem to contradict what you’ve heard on the news, read in the paper. Who are these people who act like they know so much? Maybe you read something that you think is wrong. Maybe you legitimately want to know why no one mentions any of the good things happening in Iraq. Maybe you’re mad because the people seem to be so disrespectful of the president, even if you don’t like him all that much yourself. Maybe you want to share something that you think these people might not know. Or maybe you have a genuine question, you honestly don’t understand something about the war. So you take a deep breath and bang out a comment of your own.
Boom. Fifteen people call you fifteen kinds of idiot in the next hour.
So you try to defend yourself. You use the knowledge you have, based on what the mainstream media (including, sadly, Fox News) is telling you. And instead of settling things down, it just seems to put you deeper in the hole. So you start to get a little mad yourself and you answer some of the snottier comments with a few zingers of your own.
Bingo. You’re labeled a troll.
This could happen, right?
So here’s the discussion question: How do we, the regular readers and comment writers at Today in Iraq, know when we have a real troll and not some citizen whose frame of reference is different from ours but who is still open to reason?
I mean, it’s pretty easy to tell when they open their rant with “Die, hippie scum!” or call us moonbats, but what if someone is just asking provocative questions? Is that enough to be labeled a troll?
What if they are making a lot of unsubstantiated statements? Is that troll behavior or simply a lack of understanding about what constitutes a reasoned argument?
I guess that ultimately this is a question of what do we have Comments for. I know why we have the blog – it’s to collect the underreported news from Iraq and put it all in one place so interested people can see the big picture without having to surf for hours. But why do we need Comments? Are they just to allow people to post links to stories we missed? Or are they an area for debate? Do we want to be a community that only talks to itself, or do we want discussions between different points of view? Do we have a role, a responsibility to educate? Or do we only want to talk to people who already have achieved a certain level of knowledge on their own? And if we do want to welcome opposing points of view, even if only to demonstrate their fallacies, what criteria do we apply to decide when someone is here just to disrupt or when they are sincerely arguing a viewpoint that does not coincide with our own?
Please share your thoughts. And after you’ve thought about it and shared your views, sound off on Friendly’s opinion poll below. I’ll have a news post up around 9:00 pm GMT.