Monday, February 23, 2015

Online comments and censorship

If you've visited a number of popular websites on the internet (YouTube, Reddit, etc.) you know these places are open to comments by any visitor. And truth be told: the internet is simultaneously the best thing and the worst thing in the world. You may find comments that are highly educated, original, or that approach a subject from a new angle, and they may lead you to discover whole new fields of knowledge that you never knew existed and that will dramatically alter your life for the better till the end of your days. But you can also find harassment, trolls, unsolicited shocking content, insults, etc.

But in any case, comments are a way of letting people react to your content. They're a way of offering them the courtesy of being able to respond to you when you talk. They're a way of being open to a fair conversation and letting others notify you of mistakes when you make mistakes. Because you shall make mistakes as everybody does.

If you produce content and you refuse the courtesy of commenting to your audience, then you're not open, you're not fair, and you're doomed to make mistakes that you will repeat and repeat and repeat because you were foolishly thinking so highly of yourself that you never gave people a fair chance to educate you on any little bit of knowledge that eluded you.

I use YouTube a lot for viewing videos but I also do comment and discuss with other viewers and video producers. But there are some groups that are not open to fair exchanges. And here are the groups that I have noticed so far:

  • religious groups or individuals
  • feminists
The reason censorship is generally considered harmful is because it is part of totalitarian politics. It is generally oppressive and aims at preserving the dogma that prevails at the head of the state. It will prevent positive reforms and it will lock society away from truths that could otherwise be obtained through open discussion. Censorship is the opposite of the "open marketplace of ideas".

If you are a viewer, beware of people blocking comments! This should be a warning sign that they might be ideologues unwilling to consider whatever legitimate criticism that is sent their way by people who disagree. If you are a content producer, let people comment! Surely, there will be garbage among the comments but there will also be precious ideas and remarks that you would otherwise have missed. And realizing your mistakes will be hard. Very hard. Some people refuse to admit their mistake even when it's laid in front of their eyes. Being humble and admitting what you've done wrong is not easy but it is necessary if you want to be honest and become a better person. Freedom has a price. So does being a good person. If you never pay the price, it speaks volumes about you.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Labels are a trap. And a look at the backfire effect

Are you a liberal? Are you a conservative? Are you a feminist? Are you a men's rights advocate? Are you Christian? Are you Hindu? Are you atheist? Are you a driver? Are you a gamer? Are you a sports enthusiast?

Labels! They're the word by which we simplify the notion that someone belongs to a group. For the sake of keeping things simple, let's focus on political affiliation! When you're ~20 years old, you have a number of political ideas even though you probably don't know much about politics, how it works, and the political philosophy or political-historical background of the past 70 years that explains the current dynamics of political parties. Anyways... you have ideas and you will probably choose to associate yourself to 1 of the 2 biggest political parties in your country.

After you have associated yourself to a party, after you've decided to endorse this party as part of your identity, you will tend to develop beliefs that are aligned to this party. Not because you independently develop new ideas that naturally align with your past ideas and your chosen party, but because having heretic ideas, not in line with your party would challenge your identity and the label you associate with.

When new ideas emerge within your party, embracing these new ideas will make you feel comfortable and secure within your identity and within your group. But if you face someone who presents actual evidence that your party's new ideas are wrong or misguided, you'll go defensive and you will fight against the truth of the evidence handed to you. Being defensive, the wrong or misguided ideas you've gotten from your party will even reinforce within you. This psychological effect is called the backfire effect.

When you're caught in a hot-tempered discussion or debate, the backfire effect may arise. It may arise when you're confronted with a controversial subject in relation to one of the labels you identify yourself as. Maybe your ideological opponents are wrong but maybe you are wrong! You should go and check what the other side is saying and evaluate if they have good evidence supporting their point of view. Don't believe that your side will give you a fair and accurate representation of what the opposing side's point of view!

If you find yourself agreeing 100% of the time with what your group is saying, then there is a problem with you and with the way you form your judgment. You should evaluate information coming from all sides and then conclude independently, even if that means that on some issues, you'll be at odds with your party and with some of your friends within your party. It may hurt you and them in the process, but that's the normal way that things work when you're looking for the truth and that you want to make the best informed judgment possible. Some people might be less informed than you, or informed through unreliable sources, and they might not be able to spend the extra effort to evaluate the sources that you may want to suggest to them. Also, diplomacy and being able to convincingly present arguments in a way tailored to your audience is not easy ...not easy for me, at least.

So, no matter if you're left-wing, right-wing, feminist, anti-feminist, sports-enthusiast, sports-hater, or any other label, you now know one danger of choosing a label for yourself.
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