I’m interested in political rhetoric – the arguments people make when they try to justify or prove their political claims, and also the style with which they communicate it. Everybody uses rhetoric, whenever they try to justify something to someone who doesn’t already agree. Today a lot of political rhetoric happens online. My question is “Has the internet made political discourse more aggressive?”
One answer would be a definitive ‘Yes’ – that online political communication is ‘toxic’, predominantly and unavoidably hateful, all about point-scoring rather than trying to win anyone over, and that that is the inevitable outcome when people can communicate anonymously, without having to know anything about the topic, using platforms designed to generate traffic rather than good debate. Do you agree?
My name is Alan Finlayson and I am Professor of Political and Social Theory at the University of East Anglia. I research the history, theory and practice of political rhetoric. At the moment I am looking at how social media and other online platforms are changing who gets to speak to millions about their politics, the rhetoric they use and how it is changing the ways people think about (and do) politics.
Last edited by Puddles the Monkey; 4 weeks ago
I think it has made it more honest in a way. You can say whatever you want, however you want, when doing it from behind a screen.
I'd go with the definite yes, and agree with what the second paragraph says. It's turned politics nastier and - certainly on social media, it seems - there's no real debate any more... just (usually) two sides making increasingly outlandish claims, or more offensive attacks, and a growing population of worker drones feeding their side 'likes' (social media aque vitae) and hurling abuse at the other side. And the more they do it, the further apart the two sides get, and the more extreme the attacks become.
You know there's a problem when you come along with a laid-back, middle-ground viewpoint and get shouted at by both sides.
No- the brazen aggression of thuggish delinquents has permeated far beyond both the internet and political discourse.
There is so much unwarranted aggression across society as a whole that for many it has become habitual or a fact of modern life.
Present almost everywhere: on the streets, in schools, universities, public transport, football stadiums, nightclubs, media headlines and even within Parliament itself.
The majority of unpleasant antisocial antics are being ignored by law enforcement until they either escalate into violent life threatening attacks or are targeted at a high profile individual.
Thus permitting a toxic culture to become endemic where aggression, violent threats and hate campaigns are allowed to become entrenched in social culture.
The internet (social media in particular) has just provided an additional outlet for ill intentioned aggressive/criminal people to abuse, harass and threaten strangers.
Anonymously hiding behind a computer screen and social media/email account- if they wish to make the effort to conceal their identity.
So few people are aware that sending a single violence/rape/criminal damage threat by social media message or email is a crime- no different from saying it face to face or through a posted letter.
Same applies to a single unsolicited d*** pic and three instances of sending abusive messages that do not contain any threats of violence to someone online.
Look at antifa and their thugs that are commonly just seen as normal protesters, the communists have always been violent they are just having a resurgance unlike the boogeymen they use "nazis" who are almost always vilified by nearly everyone
The only reason I hate certain people online is because of their political views, if it was not for online politics then I could have got on just fine with more people
Most of the people I meet would argue or debate an issue in the same manner that they would face to face as well as online. I'm tending more towards the idea that the internet passes the opportunity to package opinions however anyone would like to, and the greater the measure of anonymity the more aggressive the people can be. As such, it would probably lend to more toxic conversations. I don't think a large majority behave aggressively on the internet, but from an anecdotal standpoint, I'd say that it can sour the experience and make conversation on the internet not as worthwhile.
I think yes, as people can hide behind a screen, so-called keyboard warriors. There is also less opportunity to escape, especially for people with FOMO who do not really switch off from debate and social media.
Reddit is horrendous in terms of partisan politics and bubbles. It's also mostly about populism and abusing the idea of karma (which would defend ideas akin to political neutrality against populism)
So, there is a kind of 'gamification' of political discussion going on? Is that what you are thinking? That could be really important. There are parts of politics that are a game, but the game is Politics - winning people so they vote for your party or your bill. But if that gets overwritten by a different game - the the game of getting attention on social media so that you can monestise it or turn it into celebrity, then we've got a problem. It would mean that lots of people who look like they are doing politics aren't - they are doing showbiz.
I'm not sure... I can think of several historical examples pre-internet where the political rhetoric has been very aggressive.
It feels like the echo-chamber has brought division and tribalism closer to home in a different way, but I'm not sure if this a new phenomenon or a reflection of the current economic situation or ...... ? It feels more toxic, but I'm not sure if it actually is - although the scale has changed and maybe that's what's different.