Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why Many Listservs Lose Diversity of Opinion

It is disturbing that many listserv comments are used for attacks or result in “piling on” rather than civil discourse. The initial genius of listservs was that they provided an easy way to share opinions and get feedback. But many people on listservs are now only “listeners.”

My theory is that email is a difficult medium in which to gauge tone and humor, especially among relative strangers. So while listservs promote unbridled expression (sometimes vehement, strident or derisive), they require little transparency or accountability for statements and are easily hijacked.

People can vent frustration, often with little justification or rationale. Hidden agendas are easily fostered. These aspects are more than a bit chilling to public discourse. It's the same reason small groups can dominate public hearings. Often they are dominated only by negative agendas or ulterior motives or at best prone to overstatement and theatrics (thus the popular saying, any 30 people in orange T-shirts can determine outcomes).

So listservs to me serve a purpose, but they aren’t nearly as democratic or as engaging as once thought. Oh, they are often democratic in that anyone can sign up and in relative anonymity say whatever they want, but they don’t often yield true discourse, and that’s disappointing.

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