How do I know anymore? Online comments sections and a paralysis of opinion. #68 #cong15

By John Magee.

John Magee #68 So, how do I form an opinion now?

So, how do I form an opinion now

What is it about those comments sections you get at the bottom of an online newspaper or social media article? You know how it goes… you’ve just read a considered opinion piece on how to deal with ISIS or the latest on the Mayo football / Galway hurling managerial crises or maybe something on Mr Donald Trump (anyone?) and there they are. Starting as a trickle, they can morph into many hundreds of comments from anyone with a smartphone or keyboard to hand. 

One of the most fascinating aspects of them is the sheer diversity of perspectives that appear. Who knew there were such passionate and stridently held perspectives in cyberspace? Who knew there were so many people with the time and inclination to share their views? Is this their chance to be heard?

These fora open up many topics for debate and discussion, but one that interests me in particular is that odd feeling that in some way being presented with this huge diversity of perspectives leads to me losing some sense of certainty or clarity on my own previously-held positions. Has anyone else ever felt this sense of crumbling? You read a couple of dozen posts and in doing so are presented with diametrically opposed views and somehow feel yourself getting pulled in different directions… almost agreeing with both. Or maybe it’s simply getting seduced by the author’s capacity to articulate such a cogently argued perspective.

So who do we trust now for a balanced or nuanced perspective? We used to trust books as we felt they represented the conclusion of something, they were the ‘result’ of a research process, and they shaped our opinions in a real way. They had a credibility that is now more elusive and had a validity of some sort, as otherwise they wouldn’t have made it to mainstream libraries.  The books are still there of course, but I’m wondering whether anyone is reading them anymore.

The incredible diversity of perspectives we witness seem almost to have the effect of inducing a paralysis of sorts – something akin to the ‘tyranny of choice’ concept. Obviously there are issues around the moderation of comments sections given that many keyboard warriors (and legal departments) offer little or nothing by way or right of reply or room for debate. Notwithstanding moderation concerns, though, this uncensored avalanche of perspective provides a bewildering range of reasons to doubt oneself.

Given that these comments sections allow a broader range of perspectives to reach us than might otherwise be the case in terms of what we’d expect to find via the usual channels that inform us of what is happening in the world and how to feel about it, they also provoke a crisis of confidence in terms of how I actually formed any previous opinion. In so doing they’ve often led me into a warren of doubt as to what I think about almost anything. This crumbling affords me the opportunity to question how I was allowing my own opinions to form. Were they ‘uninformed’ previously or was it simply that I was unaware as to how I was being influenced

Has anyone a template as to how we navigate our way through the anonymous spectrum of perspectives?

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie