Hey there, #WUL. Long time no see!
I’ve been a bit busy lately, and the reason I have been so busy serves as the inspiration for this post. In October of last year, I launched an online community called Agree, Disagree, or Qualify.
Agree, Disagree, or Qualify (ADQ) is a closed group for open minds dedicated to rigorously testing claims in concert with the values of free expression, eager education, and utmost respect. Members can post any claim – a declarative statement – and other members agree, disagree, or qualify the statement.
Building an online community doesn’t happen overnight.
Some of these claims can get… heated, so ensuring a strong moderation core is a key part of keeping the conversation from devolving. Unbeknownst to me prior to this adventure, online moderation is hard. Here are five new lessons I have learned from living life at the “Mod’s Eye View.”
1. Discussion builds communities.
ADQ started as an extension of a Facebook page experiment on my own personal wall. I used to consistently post claims asked others to agree, disagree or qualify with those declarative statements. The last claim I ever posted there suggested that ADQ should have its own group. The answers that came back were agrees and easily accommodated qualified answers, thus prompting the forum.
60 members were initially chosen, a number that has since swelled to 1,330 members in a mere 6 months. These members have tested more than 4,200 claims and provided more than 70,000 comments worth of interaction on topics serious, sentimental, political, and scientific.
The community builds upon itself by testing claims and commenting on those claims. The more discourse that takes place, the more others engage and the larger the community becomes.
2. Persuasion via direct discourse is difficult…
Most of us hold dear to our core beliefs in conversation. Like most communities, ADQ can come to intense discussion points surrounding specific hot topics surrounding race, gender, and anything to do with sex. These are the highest volume threads in ADQ.
These “forbidden-from-the-dinner-table” topics make up more than just sheer volume, though. They also present challenges in the form of conversation stoppers based on extremely powerful beliefs. Quite often, moderators wind up caught between worldviews of different individuals, and some of those worldviews are even immediately accusatory of the ADQ Guidelines, making it difficult to respond to those critiques without appearing biased or caving to implicit internal biases.
When this takes place, persuasion becomes even more difficult as the volume of the dialogue drowns out the specific discussion of the topics.
3. … but it does happen.
In spite of the difficulty that comes with cleanly laying out a case and getting it to stick, online dialogue really does change world views. ADQers have posted multiple threads on whether or not another member of the forum has changed their mind on something, or if they have changed someone’s mind. Responses are mixed. A good number of participants state that the forum has helped them change their mind on some little things, and some have changed on some large things.
Against a backdrop of a national discussion regarding what tactics are most effective to create social change, the case for dialogue can at least be moderately made, even if it has limitations.
4. Much of the disagreement is semantic.
There is a rhetorical endpoint to some discussions I have personally labeled “Dictionary Wars.” Dictionary Wars are just what they sound like: haggling over definitions. The thing is, definitions exist in the larger social context and fabric of society, so how a word is defined is largely based on rhetorical, moral, and political goals.
“Dermatologist,” for example, is a non-controversial word. There is no haggling over it because there is no cause associated with dermatology. “Feminist,” “terrorist” or “conservative,” on the other hand, carry social weight. When people argue over what those words mean, there is usually an underlying dispute between them regarding what the words should mean rather than what they actually do. This is largely matter of political positioning.
The good news about that is that we all actually agree far more than we think. Sometimes, we DO have strong disputes over fundamental ideas, but in actuality, we also often are simply pushing back and forth over terms and why they should mean what we think they should mean.
Keep that in mind the next time you are having a dialogue with someone of a political worldview not your own.
5. Communities co-create their own culture.
The shortening of Agree, Disagree or Qualify to “ADQ” was the work of the community, as was the idea to occasionally meet up in person (the third ADQ Pint Night will take place Friday, May 22nd in Houston). The community also provided the groundwork that led to the ADQ mascot, Koala, (get it? :D) as well as some of the other ongoing ideas that the community founders and Modoalas are taking on.
If you are curious to learn more about ADQ, or want to get in on the conversation, we’d love to have you! Join the forum at www.adqtalk.com.
Photo: Provided by ADQ Community