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Where does meaningful dialogue start?

A couple of weeks ago Mark Zuckerberg announced he is changing the mission of Facebook. He wants to move beyond connecting people and more towards connecting groups of people in community. I commend Zuckerberg for establishing a written mission statement that aims to be something more than growing big and making lots of money. Although I do wonder what the shareholders of Facebook think about the new mission. After reading his statement, the question is in my head was, can an online forum bring community together in meaningful dialogue that promotes better understanding of opposing viewpoints?

Creating a place for a public forum is easy. Changing behavior of individuals to have an effective forum, not so much. I thought of two recent examples:

  1. NPR.org, a large well known media outlet for local, national, and world news discontinued public comments in 2016. Why? They described it very eloquently as “the c comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users.” I personally read comments prior to their decision and I can affirm they are correct. The comments section was intended for readers to pass along further insights or even ask questions about the topic of the article. Unfortunately, the public comments section was mostly a shouting match and full of hateful words. It wasn’t even close to meaningful dialogue.
  2. During the past presidential election, political posts on Facebook were common. The dialogue became so charged that in the days leading up to and after the election there was quite a bit of ‘unfriending’ happening as people looked to silence and rid their daily feeds of political bickering.  I’ll admit it; I muted quite a few people during the presidential process.

Online community groups and interest pages are not new. Just look at twitter hashtags, Google+ Collections and Communities, or even online blogs. Getting people to engage in an online interest community is an easy connection to make. Members participate because they share a common interest. They share a common viewpoints or interest.

But beneficial discussion with true debate and openness around opposing viewpoints has become problematic in our society. This isn’t a technology problem. It’s a heart problem. For Facebook, or any online community, to create meaningful dialogue around opposing viewpoints to succeed, people must first choose to behave with common courtesy and respect towards one another. Here are some courtesies: Listen first, smile often, apologize, speak in a conversational tone, and share. Sounds alot like love your neighbor. We would all do well to start on this foundation.

Onward and upward!