Improving Debate, Filtering Trolls, and The Long Now Foundation

(canadaduane) #1

Has anyone heard of the Long Now Foundation Debate format? It was mentioned recently in an article about gamergate and steelmanning. I would love, love, love to see this implemented in Discourse as a technological assist to a well-founded sociological listening practice. Basically, the practice is this: when engaging in a debate or conversation, you cannot speak your mind until you’ve first synopsized the other’s view–TO THEIR SATISFACTION.

Imagine the impact this would have on the discourse of the internet if implemented. Trolls would be virtually silenced–most are not sufficiently well equipped with emotional intelligence enough to understand someone else’s feelings, perspective, etc. The quality of debate would increase–people would be required to validate that they understand a position before responding with their own. The sense of feeling understood in the online world would increase–much of the animosity online is not because people have no voice, but because they do not feel understood. The Long Now Foundation Debate Format could change all that.

Here is what I propose (and I welcome your input in either guiding me to other discussion threads where this has already been discussed, or in connecting these ideas with specific features in Discourse, since I am only superficially involved as a user of the forum):

  • create a category-level feature that can be enabled or disabled, something like “Enable Steelman Conversations”
  • when this feature is enabled, anyone can create a new topic in the category
  • to respond to a topic, however, an invisible/private conversation thread takes place between the responder and the OP (original poster). The response would need to summarize or show that the responder has listened to and understood the original position. This private conversation might go back and forth a few times while the responder “gets it right”. Finally, the OP would check a box that marks this person as having listened and understood their original position.
  • with this new “checkbox” checked, the responder now has permission to post their point of view (response position) publicly

Structure a discussion around logical components of an argument
Posting to reddit ends up with user photo as sourced image?
(canadaduane) #2

Can this be implemented as a core feature, or as a plugin? Should it be?

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #3

It’s a novel concept, but it doesn’t fit with the majority of forums.

I agree it would be well worth trying out on forums with advanced topic leading to potentially heated debates. Probably more appropriate as a plugin proposal though; I can move it to Extensibility if you’d like.

@sam ninja’d!

(Sam Saffron) #4

This would have to be a plugin, the mechanics are not trivial and I do not think many communities would use this feature.

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #5

Here are some tangentially related discussions, as they too delve into edge use cases for Discourse as an advanced debate engine:

(canadaduane) #6

Very interesting, I’ll look at the other proposals and see if there is sufficient overlap or if a new plugin would make sense.

(Jeff Atwood) #7

You can look at the economist debate formats. Search my posts for “economist”.

Most people are looking for entertaining conversations more than iron clad debate rules; very few would tolerate such strictness in format.

(Scott Trager) #8

The “Long Now Foundation Debate format” is a really poor idea for the vast majority of forums in my humble opinion. Most of the time when I am on a forum, I see something someone says and reply to the question and get right back out. I don’t want to have to spend the time to think about THEIR position, I just want to make my own. If people had to spend time thinking about what every poster before them (or even just the OP of the topic) said, forum usage would disappear overnight from user abandonment.

(Mittineague) #9

As much as I would have no interest in being a member of such a forum, I can see where it might fit some forums. Instead of a Core Feature, Plugin territory?

(Michael Downey) #10

I like the format and often try to use it in real world discussions. However it may not always be a good fit as others have said. If there were something to implement this in code, it should probably be enabled on a per-topic or maybe per-category basis.

(canadaduane) #11

@strager I hear you saying that you don’t have time to understand a whole position, or especially many positions–that your primary use of a forum is in expressing your own. You worry that a listen-before-replying format would result in no one having time to discuss.

(Scott Trager) #12

More or less…

There are few universal truths in this world, but one of them is that people love having freedom. When you start constraining them and forcing them to do something (especially something as private as thinking!) people will either leave, or in some cases lash out and become problems where none existed previously. Some users will carefully read, contemplate their answer, and write out a comprehensive thought-filled response. Others will respond as I did above. There should always be room for both imho.

(Nicholas Perry) #13

This reflects my thoughts on the matter. This is the core of problem that needs to be dealt with. Sadly, it is a cultural one, not necessarily a technical one. I think the tricks being used on stackoverflow and lend a nod to the a possible direction (well done gamification).

Another angle is that part of it too is, at some level, we need to allow for the sillyness that is memes if we are to ever get people involved. Despite its shortcomings, I think there is a lot of good coming out of reddit because it is so liberal. Its worth emulating. It also has a community that helps sequester cat memes into their own areas. Although memes are still a problem on some boards that don’t take pains to avoid them.

Another problem is on-boarding. Any large enough group will develop its own memes and even spontaneously develop ‘enemies’ - which often becomes the proverbial ‘n00b’ which can kill a communities growth over the long term. Consider some science on the matter: The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight – You Are Not So Smart

Also, a relevant quote:

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

  • Winston Churchill

We need to ensure a place that isn’t encouraging people using it as a sounding board or pulpit. Sadly real engagement is hard.

(Jeremy Kossen) #14

Imagine if cable news networks used this format!

(Dave McClure) #15

Wonderful article. Thanks for sharing.

(canadaduane) #16

For anyone interested in this idea from a cultural perspective, we are trying this as a subreddit here:

There are over 100 subscribers who have joined in the past day. If we start to need a technical assist to the cultural norms, we may create a reddit bot, or possibly move to discourse (but that would be a tough sell now that it’s on Reddit). I don’t know exactly how this experiment will turn out, but I look forward to finding out.

(Jeff Atwood) #17

It’s an interesting experiment… update us and let us know how it goes.

Personally I think a lighter weight, less effort-y version of this might be interesting if we could ever figure out what that is.

(Willard) #18


I think that this underestimate both the problem and the agents involved:

Imagine the impact this would have on the discourse of the internet if implemented. Trolls would be virtually silenced–most are not sufficiently well equipped with emotional intelligence enough to understand someone else’s feelings, perspective, etc.

A simple way to bring an exchange to a stalemate would be to systematically reject any kind of paraphrase of one’s position. Just like in therapy, where this technique can be used. I think it’s called mirroring. At best, it mimicks the best weapon in a non-violent communicator’s arsenal.

However, it can be abused by manipulative people who may not be empathic, but who would compensate with good “reading” skills. From where I come from (climate debates), most trolls would find many ways either to whine that they’re being misrepresented, or to make sure their opponent is portrayed in the worst possible manner within the ground rules. I could provide examples, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

I am afraid that human moderation is here to stay.

(Nicholas Perry) #19

This is why I’m fond of discourse - it spreads the moderation around to people who invest time and energy into the community!

Posting to reddit ends up with user photo as sourced image?