🌰 social networks are designed to make resolving arguments impossible

In fact, Seymour’s analysis suggests that the very architecture of social media, the algorithms and protocols that make it what it is, combine to create an atmosphere in which it is impossible to resolve arguments.

How can we change that?

Dave Winer has an idea, musing:

What if Twitter or Facebook let you argue privately, one-on-one, with a random anonymous person who takes the other side on an issue you feel passionately about. You can say whatever you want, the other person can opt out at any time, so can you. Repeat as many times as you like.

The idea here is that allowing either of you to leave at any time incentivizes you to be polite in order to keep the conversation going. But would people want to? Some things to try:

  • gamifying long conversations through badging (think Duolingo giving you badges for sticking with a language for a certain amount of time)
  • surveys that gather feedback (e.g. was the person a good debater, were they courteous, etc. This could also lead to badges.)

This sets the stage for a web experience that optimizes for healthy disagreement. But resolution of an argument is a harder think to design. I’m reminded of something I wrote on Mastodon earlier this month:

Today I learned in a visceral way that there’s absolutely no way to discuss a topic you disagree on with another person on Twitter. It’s truly technically impossible. I knew that intellectually before, but I’d avoided Twitter for so many years, I didn’t know it emotionally. Now I do, lol.

To be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s possible on Mastodon either. To disagree successfully, you need:

  • an assumption of good will on both sides
  • the space/format to ask more questions than you pontificate
  • the space/format to answer questions fully
  • the feeling of being recognized & understood by the other person, even in disagreement
  • to be emotionally comfortable with someone fundamentally disagreeing with you

It’s hard 1:1 in person, let alone any form of mass communication.

It’s easy to image design solutions to much of the above. But feeling recognized and understood? Sitting with the discomfort of disagreement? Those are harder to design around.

How would you approach it? What do you think is necessary to foster healthy disagreement on the internet?


  • Source: [[Can We Live Without Twitter]]
  • Related to:
    • [[🌰 social networks imitate a feeling of connection that is missing in the real world]]
    • [[🌰 demands of democracy]]
    • 🗨️ How social networks can create civilized debate
    • [[🌰 imagine a disagreement club]]
    • [[🌰 academia relies so heavily on peer feedback for advancement that it punishes disagreement]]

Don't want to do that? @ me on twitter or mastodon

Every post on this blog is a work in progress. Phrasing may be less than ideal, ideas may not yet be fully thought through. Thank you for watching me grow.