"fair and balanced" discussions

A thought: unpopular opinion + not enough time/energy/care to engage in back and forth does seem to result in the holder of the unpopular opinion walking away and the result being lots of the popular opinion dominating a conversation. The result looks like an echo chamber even if it isn’t intended that way.

But due to contrarians with lots of time on their hands and ill behaved people, the actuality may be different.


While this has nothing to do with moderation, I am interested in everyone’s thoughts on how an unpopular opinion should be best handled (in general, not specifically here on the BBS), because I’ve yet to see any suggestion other than “there should be a place for people to say what they want without fear of rebuttal” or other forms of tone policing seriously offered.


if you were directing that solely to @Israel_B then i apologize for stepping into something i shouldn’t have but i do have a thought or two about this topic. let me know and i’ll withdraw this comment if you want me to.

everything hinges on the person and the opinion. i have to assume that “unpopular” is not being used as a synonym for fantastically immoral, immoral or amoral to the point of being anti-moral, that “unpopular” is not equivalent to things along the lines of advocating genocide, rape, or pedophilia. as long as the “unpopular” opinion does not cross those lines then i have no problem with anyone being allowed to present their opinions here no matter how unpopular and thus the hinge becomes the person expressing the opinion.

if the person is willing to accept the give and take of debate about their opinions and is further willing to accept the fact that intelligent, strong-minded people are liable to argue and debate against their opinions, and they are able to deal with the argument and debate without throwing a temper tantrum and whining about mistreatment or attempting to shame their interlocutors with tone policing, under those circumstances i think this is already a place which is well equipped to handle unpopular opinions. if what is wanted is a walled garden where each special snowflake’s opinion is delicately curated and receives no rough handling from the surly mob . . . i can’t think of anywhere that would be generally true and this certainly isn’t the place for that.

seriously, as long as one is willing to accept that there will be debate, there will be counterarguments, there will be people deploying facts and statistics as appropriate to undermine one’s opinions and one is willing to maintain one’s equanimity as it happens then we can truly say that we already know how to deal with unpopular opinions.

in early 2017, i took the unpopular stance that hilary clinton had earned the nomination and, despite losing the electoral college, proven herself a good candidate. i was involved in multiple debates and arguments about that but at no point did i make a fuss about being mistreated because people weren’t agreeing with me.


Is the problem that unpopular opinions are being suppressed (which seems to be an argument in the thread this was forked from), or is it that unpopular opinions tend to get buried if one is not invested in defending their arguments?

ETA: My original post read something like this, but I think it was missing the point: There are certainly plenty of people here with opinions that go against the grain, and I haven’t seen any evidence of their opinions being suppressed as long as they are debating in good faith and otherwise following the rules. For the most part when I see debates being purged, it’s because of bad faith arguments, personal attacks, or otherwise running afoul the TOS (victim blaming and such).


The thought I was working from is the second of those two. Or at least close to that. Perhaps “buried” in that if holder of unpopular opinion doesn’t have the time/desire/energy to argue the point one or two posts of the unpopular opinion get lost in a thread regardless of flagging.

Fairly sure I’ve never argued in favor of Fox “fair and balanced” or rebuttal should not be allowed.

That wasn’t within the scope of my intention. Then again what is immoral isnt universal anyway. In the West we like to tell ourselves that it is, but the world is a big place. That however is another discussion.

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i clarified my meaning in the very next clause of the same sentence–

i’d like to think that those represent fairly bright lines generally.


I did read the qualifier. Sadly even with those qualifications I know of counter examples. Not just in the past but right now. If you look you’ll find out.

Pretty much the only way we in the West or Near-West can process that is to dismiss those who normalize ideas that are repulsive to us as being radicals or fringe elements. They’re certainly not going to be showing up here on the BBBBS.


Nope, it was directed at whomever wanted to discuss it, as it’s not something that (IMHO) can be solved by either moderation or moderation tools.


Clearly what’s needed is some form of affirmative action to make people like unpopular opinions.

The more unpopular, the more you’re required to like it.

Some might say that not having people like your opinions isn’t congruent with generations of economic and social discrimination; but they’re just defending the status quo.

You might consider including a requirement to like a specific number of posts by these groups. Weighted by their disfavor here.

You have to like a misogynist at least twice a week - a Nazi - maybe ten times.

It’s a modest proposal.


I’d say the recent charter school topic illustrates your point nicely:

Joe_Ventura pops up to defend the principle of charter schools which turns out (quelle surprise) to be a not universally popular point. The post gets a few likes but also attracts a few responses arguing with the post.

A bit more to-and-fro, all perfectly within the bounds of normal discourse and the site rules but it does end up with:

As others have said, I don’t know how that sort of thing can be remedied. Essentially, it is due to people not being willing to continue arguing. Which arguably is a good thing - for their blood pressure if nothing else.

But then, if few people raise ‘contrary’ opinions, others look at the comments and decide “It’s all one-sided, they’re not interested/open to other views…” and don’t bother to post either or do so with a “this post isn’t going to be published”.


It’s far from perfect(and that was in its prime; pretty much not worth going there now); but I’ve always been fond of the Slashdot model of focusing primarily on tools/moderation techniques designed to make it easy for people to choose what they are interested in seeing rather than trying to draw a bright line on what needs to disappear(though this doesn’t mean that anything need go; GINAA trolls aren’t really ‘unpopular opinions’ in any sense that requires keeping them around).

Because people’s time is finite you can’t just do nothing about stuff that is broadly seen as inflammatory or noise; we simply don’t have the bandwidth(at the human stage, we probably do at the HTTP stage) for that sort of idealized viewpoint neutrality.

However, focusing on allowing people to see what interests them, rather than culling things, allows you to focus on the bright(er) line of the simply unacceptable rather than trying to moderate according to your guess of what people on average are interested in seeing.


Of course, this is canon for BB; several of the bloggers were pretty strong HRC supporters during the primaries.

W/r to minority opinions, Nassim Taleb has written extensively on how an unyielding minority can end up dominating a flexible majority through sheer unwillingness to compromise.


Here’s yet another example from a new user about his “unpopular” opinion (spoiler: it had no basis in reality):

The “echo chamber/BB authoritarians” argument is the new-user version of what we’re discussing: people who essentially arrive here and quickly announce they don’t expect to be heard out (when what they really object to is having their opinions challenged or questioned in any way).

In my experience, the longer-term users here who constantly whinge about having “unpopular” opinions also regularly tend to argue their (usually repugnant or reality-challenged or self-serving) positions in bad faith and/or do so in a way that’s disrespectful and dismissive of the community in whole or part. They’re just more careful or sneaky about doing it in a way that doesn’t get them banned.

From what I’ve seen here, the problem eventually self-corrects: they slip up and break the site rules overtly and get banned; they get I/ignored by so many other regular users that they stop getting the attention they seek via their behaviour; or in some cases they realise that there are better uses of their time than to behave this way or that there are platforms and communities that are more amenable than BB in terms of allowing them to continue behaving that way without consequence. Whatever happens in those cases, more self-pitying whinging about BB is to be expected.


Yes I think you identified examples of my thoughts on this quite perfectly. Thank you for making the effort.

Yep, as you and @orenwolf and others point out its not something moderators can solve. I never found the answer when I moderated here and there. On a subreddit the mod team I was part of tried to encourage people who felt there was bias to post more content to their liking but that won’t work here obviously, different model. Also tried encouraging people to support their positions but you cant force someone to argue and you cant force people to not argue either.

I dont see that being unwilling to argue causes the perception that without arguments it *appears+ as if everything is one sided. But that brings this all back full circle.


This was never really true, though. Slashdot downvoted unpopular opinions into oblivion. Reddit still does this, and in both cases, the default is to hide those unpopular opinions. And both Slashdot and Reddit do actually remove comments against their posting guidelines.

Downvoting-based systems do create echo chambers, because unpopular opinions are hidden by default.

This suggests that unpopular opinions are culled here, which is simply not true. Posts against our guidelines are. And I presume you aren’t suggesting discussions are better when bigotry and personal attacks are allowed to stand within them.


Except it doesn’t end there. He posts 8 more times (and counting) in that thread, with (mostly) healthy give-and-take.

In contrast, the second poster you quote is a garden-variety underbridge denizen, who shitposted easily fact-checked lies. Good riddance.


the current system allows anyone who stays within the guidelines to comment freely. as part of the privilege of being able to comment freely within the guidelines other members may disagree with a comment within a thread and may do so publicly. a member whose comment is criticized may attempt to defend their comment or defend their logic. this process of debate may continue for as long as the participants want to continue it or until the thread closes. the argument may gather multiple participants as long as they remain within the guidelines.there is no coercion, there is no force, all of this is voluntary among the members of the site who choose to participate. comments which violate the guidelines are subject to being flagged by the members and removed by the moderators. all of this represents a series of voluntary actions.

unpopular opinions are generally going to be unpopular for one or more of at least four reasons–

the opinion is offensive to a large plurality of the membership

the opinion, if generally believed, would create a danger to one or more demographic groups

the opinion is demonstrably irrational

the opinion represents an obvious attempt to start an argument and may not even be a sincerely held belief of the one expressing it.

there may be others. in the end, the argument will end either because the participants will tire or the thread closes. if the unpopular opinion is truly unpopular it will have the fewest comments in support of it by the end of thread. in that sense, the popular opinions will always have the largest volume of comments; however, if all participants are allowed to have their say, how is that an echo chamber? if no one has their comment removed simply because the opinion goes against the grain, if no one has their words altered to agree with the majority, how is that an echo chamber? how is that authoritarian?

wouldn’t it be more authoritarian to say “you may not argue against an unpopular opinion”? one cannot have it both ways. one cannot simultaneously have free and open debate if at the same time some opinions are protected from free and open debate.


Thanks @L0ki for this. Your post made me decide to withdraw my towel from the mat and re-engage with the charter schools are racist crowd. The reason I read BoingBoing is to learn (and laugh), and I would like to contribute to that learning where I can.


Yes that’s where the example ceases to be apt. That hadn’t happened at the point I posted about the exchange.

The specific case is not important. The point was to illustrate the topic of discussion since there seemed to be some debate about what was meant.

We now have a frame of reference.

The fact that the poster in question didn’t stick to their stated intention not to post further is of course clearly a deliberate ploy to undermine my example and quite frankly all of those later posts should be flagged with extreme prejudice.

That’s great (seriously, it is) - see what you’ve done though! Undermining my beautiful example by being all reasonable and taking part in the discussion… :slight_smile::crazy_face:

Again though, it serves to illustrate the posited issue.

And, yes, it does tend to add support to the argument that the people who come straight in with “this post won’t be published! Wow, what an echo chamber you’ve got here, etc., etc.” don’t tend to be interested in making their arguments. They want a nice “Yes, you’re so right, how could we not have seen that” or more likely, they actually want everyone piling on to tell them how wrong they are in the most polemic terms they can extract because it nicely reinforces their worldview.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than meeting people whose views you abhor only to find they’re actually calm rational people who appear sensible in all ways except that they don’t agree with you on something.

But I do think @Israel_B has a point when he says that there is a tendency to just not post views which one knows will be contentious.

It takes a certain mentality to keep fighting one’s corner on a topic where the appearance is that the majority opinion is against one. And yes, the people who have that mentality tend to sooner or later make their arguments in ways that breach the site rules.

The people who don’t have that kind of mentality simply don’t post their views on those topics. Not because the view is contrary to site rules or the way they post about it is but simply because they decide it’s not worth the effort.

That does tend to mean that discussions go around certain topics and certain views.

As I’ve said before I don’t think there is an answer to it, certainly not one that mods and software can do anything about.

About the only thing I can think of that might help (assuming anyone cares enough to want to do anything) might be if we, the users, adhere a bit more to the spirit of the community guidelines such as assuming good faith (and then flagging mercilessly once that assumption is almost inevitably shattered) and also considering how our response looks to the poster we’re replying to when taken together with all the other replies they’re likely to get.

I do see quite a few posts here where some really quite fine snark is poured on another post and I’m guilty of attempting such myself.

One such response is fine, two is funny. When it gets to more than that? Perhaps a bit more po-faced earnestness is required.

I’ve heard that’s sometimes of importance.


@DukeTrout, I’m truly done with that thread now. There are primarily only two people “debating” points at this time, and neither seem very interested in citing their arguments. And when I respond to their arguments, they accuse me of changing the topic. Not a fun way to engage or worth my time ultimately.

@L0ki, This is the first time that I’ve really engaged in any sort of real debate on bbs. Most of what I read (both posts and comments), I agree with and don’t see that I have anything to add to the conversation. My takeaway from this experience is that there’s a tendency for unsupported blanket statements (e.g., “charter schools were invented in the wake of Brown vs. BOE” or “charter schools aren’t public institutions” or “most charter schools are profit-driven” or “charter schools skim off the students that are hard to teach”) to go unchallenged because the audience on this platform generally agrees with those arguments. Whereas, unsupported statements on the other side get immediately challenged and, in one case in my situation hidden by the community.

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