Debating online vs. debating in person

I recently attended a workshop that was very helpful in how to have a productive in-person conversation between people of differing viewpoints on issues. That that made me think about is how it is often much easier to have a civil face-to-face discussion than a civil online discussion.

This is ground that has been trampled often, so we have all heard it before. Online, you do not get tone of voice, facial expressions, body language and instant feedback that you get when talking in person. Online, it is very easy to take things in a way not intended and then attack based on that mistaken perception. There is also a natural calming factor that happens in real life, where people are less likely to be nasty in person.

Online, all of that changes. If you’re discussing something on Facebook with a family member or a IRL friend, you may want to be more restrained in order to preserve the offline relationship. But when debating a hotly contested issue with strangers, it is much easier to see them as pixels instead of as people. Therefore, it is easier to go on the attack, and there is much less social cost to getting nasty.

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