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Kevin Brown

Dr. Freymiller
CAS 138T
6 March 2014
Online Deliberation Reflection
A topic of civic concern that has interested me, and many others in America, is the War
on Drugs. I chose to comment on a Yahoo News article and see whether or not I could stir up
some deliberative conversation. I chose Yahoo News because it is a universally used website and
is a credible news source, although most articles are not particularly sophisticated. This article,
taken from a news website called TakePart, was terse and factual and lacked real authorial voice.
However, the article did not lack an opinion; the author used certain phrases that suggested she
felt that the marijuana should be legalized. Most of the comments I browsed through shared the
authors sentiment. Many of the users stated that they see marijuana as a harmless drug, and they
do not understand why it is considered a narcotic; the majority felt that the convicted man, Jeff
Mizanskey, was unjustly imprisoned because marijuana should be legal. I could sense this
majority sentiment by looking through some of the top and lowest-rated comments. For example,
the comment with the most thumbs down was one made by a user named Mark who stated
Im also okay if he stays in jail. He had a choice and he chose jail. This comment received
seventy-six replies, some of them challenging Mark with deliberative points and others rudely
demeaning him. A user named Rick replied, Mark is 110% right! Another user commented and
wrote, Rick is 110% stupid. The rude comment made about Rick received twenty-three thumbs
up. From this instance alone, we can see how online discussions can be somewhat deliberative
but at the same time lacking many crucial deliberative principles, especially respect and
empathy. Browsing through the comments, I felt that many of the users were unable to
participate in a self-beneficial discussion that would have allowed them to consider the topic
from another vantage point. They all were too strongly set in their own opinions to consider the
opinions of others.
My attempt to create a deliberative discussion was only a partial success. I was able to
receive some comments, but I was unable to create an actual, ongoing, discussion. I made two
separate comments on the article. My first comment received three replies, 47 thumbs up, and 3
thumbs down. Although I could have probably received more comments had I written a more
strongly worded statement, I wanted to avoid the risk of sparking a discussion like the one that
Mark had; my goal was to create a deliberation, not an exchanging of willful opinions and
useless banter. I tried to create a deliberative discussion by using phrases like it seems to me
and in my opinionmy strategy was to be irresolute so that other users might be more inclined
to share their own experiences and knowledge. I ended my first comment by stating I am
extremely interested in hearing the ideas of others on the subject. If anyone could maybe tell me
what they think by replying, I would really appreciate it. I was hoping that this polite invitation
would better my chances of receiving some interesting deliberative feedback. The feedback I did
receive was interesting, but it was not necessarily deliberative. The users who responded
appeared to be more concerned with just voicing their own frustrations rather than actually
having a conversation with me. I began my reply back to the three users by thanking them for
their input and then started to address some of the issues they stated, hoping that either they or
other users would continue to elaborate on these issues. Unfortunately, this comment ended up
being the last exchange between myself and any other users. I tried to reengage in some
conversation by modifying and reposting my reply, but I was unsuccessful. I think that the
reason this particular comment failed to spark discussion was because it may have covered too
many facets of the issue. Based on what I viewed in the comments section, the more biased and
simplistically stated comments received much more attention; based on that fact, I think it is fair
to conjecture that most online discussions tend to be non-deliberative and more argumentative.
The users seemed more concerned with advancing their own arguments and discrediting the
views and values of others. This is supported by the system of liking and disliking comments that
are used in these forums; a user can immediately dub an argument as valuable or worthless at the
click of a button. In a real deliberative discussion, such evaluations are not made so easily;
members of a deliberation have to speak to one another (not just voice their opinion) and be able
to consider the viewpoints of others.
In my opinion, the definition of a productive discussion would be one that enhances he
participants understanding of a multi-faceted issueit would be capable of enlightening the
participants by exposing them to different beliefs and rationales. Based on this definition, I
would say that the online discussion that occurred on this forum would most definitely not be
considered productive. The users all seemed completely immovable in their opinions, only
replying to one another when they felt their own opinion was either being glorified or unjustly
Although these users may appear to be narrow-minded or just downright bigoted in the
online world, I do not think that necessarily means they are incapable of deliberative discussion
in real life. The nature of the internet often fosters these types of strongly-worded and biased
discussions. The immediacy of the internet, and the simplification that such immediacy requires,
is what makes it difficult to have deliberative discussion in an online sphere. When people surf
the internet, they was interest now, they want opinions now, and they want solutions now. Real
life deliberative discussions tend to be drawn out and more patient. Members of such a
discussion are not racing toward a conclusionthey are willing and capable of listening to others
share their views and they have the time to carefully consider what each member is saying. This
type of patience and willingness to listen was demonstrated in our Civic Issues Forum; if the
group had done our Civic Issues Forum online, I cannot say that it would have been so
successful. Face-to-face discussion is a powerful tool for forcing people to relate to one
anotherI believe that the majority of people feel more compelled to listen to others (even
strangers) and consider their viewpoints more readily if the crucial element of human contact is
in the mix. The internet is not capable of relaying that type of contact. Most users are anonymous
and more often than not we forget that those are people that have typed those comments and
deserve respect.
I think Online Deliberation could be a greater possibility if the forum creates a set of
rules, much like the moderator does for a Civic Issues Forum. If a forum was able to attract
people interested in conducting a deliberative discussion, I can imagine it would be a much
greater success. Yahoo News comment section has a header that invites people to start a
discussion. If Yahoo News and the users were truly interested in starting a discussion, they
might decide to implement a more rigid set of moderating features. Until some type of change is
made, the majority of users are just going to continue yelling through a keyboard, which in this
forum is the equivalent of speaking to an empty room.