“Religion causes all wars.” Not my words, but only one of a number of provocative statements in a new series of ads Sky News is running to promote its online discussions. After these ‘fighting words‘, they ask: “Looking for an argument?”
My question to Sky News or any news organisation for that matter: Do you want an online community or fight club? Many online community experts use the pub as a metaphor. In this case, if Sky News was a pub, would they advertise: Come to Pub Sky. It’s a great place to fight.
But this seems to the be the strategy of a number of news organisations. They shout fire in a theatre, and then are strangely surprised and shocked as the audience turns into a mob. As news organisations, we bear some responsibility for the conversations we create. We cannot lay the blame solely at the feet of commenters on our sites when the conversation devolves into a shouting match, when we started the argument in the first place.
I’ve spoken with too many editors and online managers asking for technical solutions for crowd control while they never consider modifying their editorial approach. As I’ve said before, shiny tools won’t save you from the trolls, and they won’t save you from chatroom brawls of your own making.
Now, in the binary world of journalistic arguments, I can hear editors saying that I’m advocating bland conversations. No, no my black-and-white-world friends, there is a huge range of possibility between blandness and the type of simplistic provocation that I see in these adverts and in so many shout-y headlines.
Just think of how you would respond if someone came and shouted in your face. What would your likely response be? Most likely it won’t be a pleasant conversation or interesting debate.