What happened to discussion?

To solve difficult problems and achieve an outcome that works for the majority, we must be able to discuss ideas despite the possibility of conflicting points of view.

You will have had at some point disagreed with someone you live with over a certain issue. Ignoring the problem makes life at home more difficult. This is also similar when you fail to hear the other side of the issue. The only way life at home can improve is to find a common ground and develop ideas and strategies to address the issue. The same process works in every environment you are a part of.

The social climate we now live in has encouraged people to be heard; to support what they agree with and more evidently, challenge what they disagree with. However, certain factors are hindering the ability to discuss: impacts of social behaviours from using the internet, bias news and identity politics. From these factors, positions on social issues have become polarised, “discussions” on TV and social media have become battlefields in the pursuit of moral high ground, and social relationships are being based upon your political ideology. This post will look at how these specific factors are contributing to the declination of discussion.

Impact of social media

The internet is an integral part of our lives to the point where there is debate as to whether access to the internet should be considered a human right or not. It has also, in essence, made the world a smaller place; people can communicate with each other instantly through all forms of mediums. Using facebook as an example, you can see what people have been doing, interact with them through messenger and even tag them in posts you think they will enjoy. All of this devalues face to face interactions and the need for others (Robinson, 2018). Suddenly, you find yourself behind the screen more often that you are in contact with real people.

A face to face discussion allows you to observe a person’s tone and body language (Two key components of socialising). This provides you the opportunity to deescalate a possible dispute and keep the conversation focussed on the topic as well as preserve the relationship and reputation you have with that person. These social behaviours can not be observed via the internet and therefore the line between discussion and argument is evermore tenuous. The lack of tone and body language in what someone says online, can lead to verbal and physical confrontations as well as assumptions made about that person, especially if the topic is of a political nature. So when behind the glass of your screen, you now have a layer of protection. Although this layer of protection may seem like a positive product of social communications, it has actually promoted arguments and further polarised the viewpoints of people.

It comes without saying that a barrier stopping someone from hitting you gives you confidence to retaliate verbally. Just like when there is a physical altercation and each party is being held back – each spouting verbal abuse at each other claiming they would knock the other out if they weren’t being held back.

Thursday soaps: Kush fights Masood after seeing him in bed with ...
A fight between Kush and Masood on Eastenders.

Now translate that same confidence into a disagreement about a social issue. Each person claims to be right and you know you can say what you like without the consequence of physical altercation and if someone becomes verbally abusive, they will be seen to be immoral. Two sides of an argument become more polarised due to the difficulties of civility on online platforms.

Bias news

News outlets have a legal responsibility to interpret events and distribute facts to the public. Unfortunately, in some articles, you get a version of truth that is leaning towards a narrative or specific moral position on what they are telling you. The primary motive of all news articles is to have people read their articles – it is how they make money. To do this, they may use click-bait titles and attempt to manipulate your morality to react to what they have written. Sometimes, certain topics can seem forced upon you; how many BREXIT articles were there stating the problems with leaving?

The bias of these news outlets and their writers is intrinsic with the language they use and their phraseology. Studies have shown that a large proportion of readers from Twitter are conditioned towards polar ends of certain topics (Aggarwal, Sinha, Kukreti and Shikhar, 2020). Therefore, if a writer disagrees with a certain social issue, they can relay you the facts but implicitly word their article to condition your own morality so that it is more in line with theirs.

A SKY news article published on the 27th July 2020 was titled “China dominates top 20 cities with most CCTV – but UK has one very high entry.” Before you even read the article, the presence of the word “but” puts a negative spin on the UK’s position on this tally. This article mentions the UK in the title and the first line of the article; the rest of the article is aimed at China’s controversial use of CCTV. Implicitly, this article has questioned the UK’s use and need for CCTV, yet provides zero evidence of how and why the UK use it. The simple mention of the UK in an article associated with controversial usage from China is trying to make you think we are in a similar situation or will be. This may sound like speculation and some crazy levels of inference, but why would an article with the UK in the title, mention the UK only one other time when the apparent topic was on China’s controversial use of CCTV?

This is the same in another recent post from SKY news this year titled “Coronavirus: BAME groups disproportionately fined for COVID-19 breaches.” The article focusses on the released figures showing disproportion between races in terms of fines, affecting BAME people more negatively. The article then makes links with the disproportionality of stop and search on BAME people. How are they related? There is not one case where someone has claimed they have been fined because of their race rather than their breach of lockdown measures. To make links with the controversial topic of stop and searches, gives the impression that it is just another obstacle ethnic minorities have to face. This article went above the facts, they were constructing narratives. At no point in the article did it mention that they were rightfully fined.

Identity Politics

Identity politics is based on an idea that somehow your political view defines you as a person. People are divided in groups based on race, ethnicity, gender and religion. It deprives you of your own independent thoughts, that you are only thinking the way you do because you are a part of a certain group of people. It promotes stereotypes and impacts the strength of opinions on certain social issues and almost demonises the opposition’s opinions.

Sometimes identity politics is necessary when a certain group of people are being discriminated against, but this only works and is ethical when the agenda of that political identity, is to remove the political impacts of that identity rather than enforce it such as the civil rights movement in thee 1960’s.

The enforcement of political identities when trying to solve social issues creates further polarisation of the issue. You somehow lose credibility n what you are saying if you are not associated with the group enforcing it. In other words, the other side of the argument is being suppressed.

Despite Good Morning Britain (A popular TV breakfast show) being advocates for fair debates, they unfortunately and possibly unknowingly only strengthen the divide in who’s opinion actually matters. Looking at the debates centred around the gender pay gap, the vast majority of debates are held between two women. This promotes the idea that a woman’s voice has more strength in an argument associated with their political identity than that of another, even if that person may be a male economist, which in many of the debates would have known more specific and scrutinised details than the people that were involved in the debate.

A brilliant example of demonising a person based on their position on a social issue because they do not match the political identity of the oppressed identity of the issue, is Cathy Newman’s interview of Jordan Peterson in 2018.

The basis of a good discussion

Why can people not be seen as individuals knowing that what they have to say and their views are valued? The essence of debate and discussion is to analyse each others’ stances surrounding a social issue and reason each point through logic and evidence. A discussion should not be on the basis of one’s political identity or personal motives, they should be based on the common ground of wanting to solve any issue faced and brokering an outcome that fits the majority rather than a minority.

References

Robinson, J., 2018. How Facebook Has Changed The Way We Socialize – Scientific Scribbles. [online] Blogs.unimelb.edu.au. Available at: <https://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/sciencecommunication/2018/09/07/how-facebook-has-changed-the-way-we-socialize/#:~:text=Facebook%20enhances%20people’s%20ability%20to,with%20others%20and%20strengthen%20relationships.&gt; [Accessed 31 July 2020].

Aggarwal, S., Sinha, T., Kukreti, Y. and Shikhar, S., 2020. Media bias detection and bias short term impact assessment. Array, 6, p.100025.

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