Monday 23 October 2017

Eilis O'Hanlon: There's a price to pay for ending enforced silence from the Aras

If Michael D is going to enter into public debate then he has to be prepared for some criticism

Eilis O'Hanlon

A CURIOUS announcement appeared last week on the website of Popular Science magazine under the heading: "Why We Are Shutting Off Our Comments." The reason given was that a "fractious minority" was now dominating the comments section beneath certain articles and that the "trolls", as they're commonly known, were having a negative impact on how readers responded to stories. Deciding that "comments can be bad for science", the website had therefore decided to put an end to them.

The magazine's decision to suspend its own stated commitment to "fostering lively, intellectual debate" felt like a shocking rejection of the current direction towards inviting users of news media to feel welcome as active, rather than passive, participants in important debates. In another sense, though, it chimes perfectly with a tendency which is not only turning away from argument with opponents, but is actually branding the refusal to engage with criticism as a virtue in itself. That's most obviously seen online where those with liberal social values refuse to engage with conservatives opposed to abortion or gay marriage, citing as an excuse that, to do so, would be to legitimise "misogyny" and "homophobia".

The implication there, as with Popular Science, is that some things are so self-evidently true that even listening to those who don't agree is offensive.

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