As the internet has developed there has been a noticeable tendency of some online contributors to indulge in abuse of others. Sometimes this comes in the form of ‘flaming’ where writers adopt a hostile tone or substitute insults for reasoning. Even worse are ‘trolls’ who deliberately seek to create conflict by posting inflammatory or diversionary messages with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal discussion. Some people argue that such misbehaviour which would not be normally acceptable in face-to face conversation, is somehow inevitable in online discourse or somehow acceptable as part of ‘robust debate’. We do not accept this. We believe that such misconduct can only poison useful discussion as well as the relationship between the participants. It can also drown out the voice of other contributors, drive people away and in some cases actually destroy online forums. As such it is the opposite of democracy and respect for the views of others.
Such a problem is not new. It can and has often appeared in meetings. And just as the labour movement and civil society as a whole developed rules within meetings to inhibit or bar such destructive behaviour, and introduced chairing to enforce these rules, we too believe it is necessary so have democratic rules for our discussions. As we say, democracy applies to discussion as much as to political action. So please stick to the simple rules below in our discussions whether online or in person, and we’ll all progress together!
Be polite when disagreeing, and don’t forget to point out what is good in the other person’s arguments. Above all, don’t descend into personal abuse. It screws up debate and creates unnecessary enemies.
Be respectful of people’s opinions – we have so much to learn from each other if we are willing to listen. Remember that communication is a two-way process.
Be clear and concentrate on the main issues – don’t confuse debates by nitpicking or point-scoring. Be prepared to suggest further research or discussion.
Be humble, don’t be arrogant like you know everything – we are learning all the time. Remember we have all been wrong at some point in the past and will be wrong again!
Be precise, don’t stick labels on people assuming they are something they aren’t. Or treat them as stereotypes. People have things in common but they are also individuals.
Be cool, don’t get too emotional or act in the heat of the moment. Sleep on it before sending off a hot-headed reply – you’ll save yourself a lot of embarrassment and keep friends and comrades. And don’t post too quickly unless specifically answering a question. Try to allow other people to come into the debate
Be patient, don’t escalate problems or accusations until you’ve given a chance for people to respond. And keep a sense of proportion. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
Be open, don’t prejudge ideas because they come from inexperienced or unpopular people. Remember the message is more important than the messenger.
Be tolerant, don’t poison your arguments with judgments about people’s lifestyles. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Be aware that other people are busy. Some people might take more time to mull things over. You don’t have to be responded to right away.
Be conscious of the frequency of your posts. The list is no one person’s personal blog. Posting too often puts other people off and imbalances the discussion.
Try to see what the other person is actually saying (not what you THINK they are saying at first glance). What words have they actually used. What are those words likely to mean to that person, even if they don’t necessarily mean the same thing to you. What might they be TRYING to say, from THEIR point of view, even if they haven’t quite said it in the same way you would have, or if they have been less than eloquent.
Seek clarification if necessary (and it usually is). Don’t get stuck on the surface of an argument. Go beyond the smokescreen. Seek out underlying issues. Demonstrate, to the other person’s satisfaction, that you have, indeed, understood them.
Build upon areas of agreement, and then show how any areas of disagreement relate to each other. A simple clash of world views with no mutually intelligible vocabulary or concepts or approaches is futile. Bridges must be built; terms must be defined, and negotiated.
Check motives including one’s own: do you really want to communicate? Do you really want to understand? Or do you just want to win, or to defeat?
It goes without saying that any post including racist, homophobic, sexist and libellous content will be negatively verified by the moderators and if repeated their authors may be banned permanently. The same applies to vulgar, offensive and insulting entries.
Note that you are legally responsible for your publications on our websites or Facebook pages and that you are identifiable once you post a message.