In recent years more people online are behaving irrationally and unkindly when discussing important social and political issues.
These include people on the left, right, and centre of the political spectrum, and it includes people who are religious and secular.
Some of these people are rational but unkind. Others are kind but irrational. Both combinations can lead to unfairness.
We need to rethink how we interact with each other online.
1. Promoting reason, critical thinking and science
Whatever sincere differences we have in our beliefs, some things are objectively true or false. We should defend reason, critical thinking, and science as the best ways to gradually approach this truth about reality.
- When we apply reason and critical thinking to the apparent evidence of our senses, we can form beliefs that are proportionate to the best currently available evidence.
- The best method of doing this is the scientific method. It proposes hypotheses, tests them against evidence by using repeatable experiments that minimize human bias, then develops and refines theories based on the outcomes of these tests.
- We should rigorously defend reason, critical thinking, and science against challenges by people who seek to enforce subjective beliefs using authoritarian behaviour.
2. Promoting kind and fair online interaction
Online debates can magnify misunderstandings and intensify hostility, when compared to real-life conversations.
- We should remember that we are dealing with real people who have feelings. Don’t humiliate, marginalise or ostracise people who are sincerely seeking to discuss things.
- Don’t stereotype people who disagree with us. Everyone is an individual person. Don’t engage in guilt-by-association by blaming people for other people’s beliefs or behaviour.
- We should focus on what we are discussing. Point out what we agree with as well as what we disagree with. Be prepared to back down from our positions when we realise that we were mistaken.
- Engage reasonably with people who sincerely disagree with us on issues. Assume their good intent until proven otherwise. Ask them to also assume good intent on our behalf.
- Seek explanations or apologies from people who post unjust personal attacks. If it becomes clear that they are not interacting in good faith, it might be more useful to ignore them.
3. Promoting fair and just societies
This approach can help us to build fair and just societies.
- We should objectively examine the problems and opportunities in society, and develop evidence-based arguments that can guide our ethical instincts to build fair and just societies.
- Where possible, we should try to find creative ways to advance common underlying interests, rather than just compete or capitulate on the specific issues we are discussing.
- We should build alliances of people and groups who face prejudice and injustice. We can identify specific issues of mutual interest, and support and empower each other.
- We should promote the above values and aims at local, national and global levels.
The Internet has given us unprecedented access to information, and the social reach to build global communities of shared interests that can help to build a better world.
To do this we must challenge the recent tendency of people to behave irrationally, unkindly, and unjustly when discussing important social and political issues.