You're Wrong! Just Read This Link...
Comment threads at popular (and strongly opinionated) news sites are fascinating from a human psychology perspective. Thousands of posts can be added in less than an hour... far too many for any one person to read, contemplate, and reply in any meaningful way - especially for a topic of great importance and/or complexity.
The only resort? Yes, there are some who take the time and effort to converse with well thought out arguments and ideas while also taking the time to reply to others. But I see a major portion of the thread as being a shouting match with nothing but stolen talking points, ad hominem attacks, and a slew of 'I can prove you wrong in 1 link' replies.
I'm particularly fascinated by the "you're wrong, just check this out" approach for several reasons. First is that the poster was unwilling to take but a moment to add something useful or unique to the conversation. This type of context and insight can be extremely useful and bring something new to the table. But instead we get the feeling of "I'm super busy but I want you to take the time to read this 6 page article."
A second reason is that we all suffer from (or at least exhibit) confirmation bias - where we consciously or unconsciously immerse ourselves in a world that already agrees with our current belief system of how the world works. I (admittedly) fall into this trap ALL the time. If you were to look at what I have read on the internet for the past month, 95% of it is stuff I already agree with and get that nice warm fuzzy feeling that someone else agrees with me. But within 1 paragraph of reading something I find totally off the rocker, I've already closed it down. So sending me a link telling me I'm wrong is going to shut me off before I have a chance to see your point of view!
I'll see your link and raise you 2
With so much content on the web, it's not difficult to find someone that agrees with you on even the most inane subject or extreme position. So if all someone is going to do is post a link stating I'm wrong, what's to stop me from posting 3 saying I'm right? And they can reply with 5 showing that I'm wrong again! And in the middle of all this posting, has anything useful transpired?
We need humanity online
It's easy to forget that behind every post on the web is a real human being with life experiences and situations that we'll never fully understand. Hey, that's what makes us all unique. But it's because we cannot see beyond their digital persona (of which we see just one snippet of one abrupt opinion) that we dehumanize the experience. Perhaps we need to not be so quick to add to the maelstrom of noise (aka a shouting match where everyone has everyone else on mute) and return to a more reflective, more genuine, and more useful way of talking to people online. Maybe they are 'wrong' by your definition. But rather than force them to defend their position, why not share your side and then leave it at that?
There will always be exceptions to every rule as well as times when posting a single link is useful (FAQs, definitive pieces you've already written, inability to respond thoroughly to every possible question from every possible person online, etc). But I believe we've gone so far down our current path of link versus think that the strategy has lost a lot of its impact.
Here's the proof if you don't believe me.
And if you want the world to know how right you are, the tote bag at the top can be purchased here (not an affiliate link).
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About Rick Manelius
Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.