Social media creating silence?


[Via Dave Winer’s linkblog feed]

How Social Media Silences Debate.


I’m skeptical that social media silences debate. It opens up a different sort of discussion tool, one that both reflects how humans create community and offers new approaches.

First, this deals with a specific issue – the NSA and Snowden. It hits an area where there can be very little discussion. People already have hardened positions not open foe debate. Few will be persuaded to change.

So why discuss it online, where your words are there forever? At best you may talk about it with people that agree with you but no way will you confront those who are on the other side. You do not know if any of them are really crazy. 

People have always refrained from discussion of politics in public. Because people have hardened positions and will not change their views. Because people are crazy. No one talks politics in polite company.

A liberal at a conservative family’s Thanksgiving dinner is not going to be all in on Obamacare. Same with a conservative meeting a liberal group from San Francisco.

No talk of controversial things. Unless it is a company they felt safe in. That already agrees with them.

First, perhaps 2/3rds of a population connect strictly to a local community, one that provides them information mainly from each other and one where opinions match. They do not like lots of new information, feeling comfortable with what the group ‘knows.’

This is true whether online or in person.

On the other hand,  perhaps 10% of a group is highly connected to other groups, moving information rapidly between groups and acting to disrupt the comfortable views of the majority.

The majority usually hates them, calls them impolite at best and jerks at worst. But without them, the community achieves epistemic closure and pinches itself off from humanity, becoming a bubble that has no impact on the world.

A sustainable community needs both. Too few disruptors and it simply becomes brittle and unable to adapt as the world changes. It cracks easily.

Online allows communities to come together much more rapidly and easily. Because the online world facilitates the flow of information by this 10% group, it is no wonder that the majority hates being open on social media. Everyone can see what they think.

For them, it is easier to control the flow of information, and thus who hears an opinion, when at a dinner party than when on Facebook. But being in the minority at a party does not mean you are more likely to speak.

If you do you may never be invited back. 

This does not change online. Those disruptors that speak online can simply be unFriended.

It is not that minority views are more likely to be heard by the majority in an online discussion. Most people only connect to people like them. 

It is that minority views can exist at all, find their own community and sustain themselves. Without online discussion, many of these minority views would simply dissipate. But by forming their own community, they can be sustained.

Perhaps this is one reason we are seeing so much Geek Culture hitting the mainstream. That niche community was sustained in ways that allowed ti to become much more ‘normal.’

Sure, niche communities are made up of humans and will also often exclude minority views. But the ease for creating these communities, for joining and for leaving, means that large amounts of information can flow between communities than could ever before.

I can easily find and join networks that discuss either aspect of almost any topic. I have been part of more vigorous discussions online than I ever did in any other sector of my life. Online communities are expansive for me, not restrictive.