Identity vs Interest : Debates on Social Media.

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A short post about an observation which is “stuck in my mind” for past few days.

This happened in one of whatsapp group I participate. Most of the time it has only few members (out of 100+) who are vocal, others are mostly silent. Which make sense, as not everyone find every topic interesting.

A few days back I noticed that one of the member (who is mostly silent in group) participated in a discussion because of “identity” he associate with himself was being discussed. He participated because he was not comfortable with the discussion. I also think that he participated because he thought it is important to participate. Group quickly realized that he is not comfortable and discussion took a turn and eventually moved to a more comfortable tone.

What bothered me was following three questions

  • “how come a discussion between educated ( & friendly) adults ended up offending one?” or “What went wrong?”
  • What if the same discussion is not happening between friends?
  • What we can do?

What went wrong?

I realized that reason is “Identity vs Interest”.

After careful analysis of the forum I realized the pattern. Often offending (or defending )remarks comes from people who are debating to prove or protect their identity. In other words they are in discussion because of identity.. not because of interest.

Even if they think topic is interesting to them, they can not decouple background of their identity. Often they are either proud of their identity or insecure. Some speak aggressive while others don’t. But one thing is guaranteed, one of them ends up feeling bad (or often manipulated).

If two parties are discussing something out of interest, they do not bring their ego in the discussion. They are ready to change their opinions. They are listening with an open mind. But a speaker with Identity in his/her mind simply can not do it. Often they wont be listening to learn, they will be listening to answer.

What if it is not between friends?

It can be dangerous. Also such forum becomes a place where one of the powerful side can exploit other less powerful side. This leads to mob mentality, where majority opinion can suppress minority opinion.

And social media is specially more vulnerable for such kind of exploitation.

What we can do?

This is the most important part. What other people can do. People who are in discussion because of interest or people who are silent, what they can/should do?.

In my opinion they should play the role of moderator in early stage. Instead of doing damage control, we should create an environment where forum value interest based discussion more than identity based. It is very important in every forum to have a moderator or a sub group who take responsibility of keeping discussion healthy and tasteful.

If it is a forum.. it should be done in a way which develop trust and respect.

How to do that?

I think technology can help. Forum setup in social media should take in account such kind of measures. I have some thoughts.

  • We can have bot to enable introducing such kind of discipline.In an active forum, they can randomly pick a sub group as moderator.
  • A bot can identify heated discussion and notice a otherwise silent member coming up and participating. It can inform active moderators.
  • A bot can also identify pattern in user behavior. For example Interest based participants will type more and forward less (or vice vera).

Over the time such bots/infrastructure can be optimize and learn from scale of deployment.

I think such infrastructure should be introduced in all serious social media.

Feel free to leave a comment, I will be happy to discuss more.

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