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How do we transform online engagement over the most important issues in the public square?

Lately many websites have discussed the problem of Internet trolls, with some cancelling comments and others removing anonymous commenting abilities. The latter is a step in the right direction, but we still face serious challenges in that trolls not only crowd intelligent discourse, data indicates that their negative comments can alter perceptions of ideas for the worse. Since the Internet has become an extension of the public square now shifted into cyberspace, and anyone can have a global impact, how do we fix things?

I'm working on a project with the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. It's an online resource called The World Table. It is designed to transform negative behavior online in engagement over issues of serious disagreement, from religion to politics and more. It draws upon the principles of social psychology, and has great potential to transform social media. We need other social entrepreneurs to think this through and experiment with us. We are now in beta testing. I wonder if I could ask folks to take a look at our intro video and consider signing up at http://www.theworldtable.org.

After taking a look and seeing what we're doing, maybe even trying it out yourself, what do you think? And how else might we transform the trolls so we can work together for the common good in the global public square?

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Closing Statement from John Morehead

Unfortunately, we did not have much by way of participation in this conversation. My questions remain, but I hope folks will explore this with me, whether here or at The World Table.

I do need to correct a misunderstanding by Fritzie Reisner. First, I was open in posting my question, and the website I linked to is open as well. Second, The World Table is not owned by or affiliated with the Mormon Church. It is a part of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, a separate non-profit incorporated in New York with a religiously diverse board with plans to expand this diversity and representation of religious traditions. I don't know how these dots were incorrectly connected, but it is an unfortunate error. This closing comment sets the record straight. For those with questions about The World Table, FRD, or online civility, please do not hesitate to contact me.

  • Oct 3 2013: I'm sorry I wasn't more clear. I was a part of the discussions you reference. My question was directed at the TED Talks community. I'll use the Search Conversations feature.
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      Oct 3 2013: I think in the interest of openness it would have been nice to spell out the underlying motivation for the Mormon Church to start this new forum. I could find this explanation with a little searching online, but I will leave it for you to explain or link to the background material if you choose to do so.
  • Oct 2 2013: Thank you, Mr. Reisner. I note previous discussion on improving the Internet as well. I wonder if there have been any discussions on transforming behaviors in Internet exchanges or between religions?
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      Oct 2 2013: Yes, please search in SEARCH CONVERSATIONS..

      I see from searching online that this initiative, its pros and cons, have already been discussed actively within the religious community that has launched it.

      If you are not familiar with those online discussions, you might want to check them out. Of course what really matters is only whether those who join get what they seek from that forum.
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    Oct 2 2013: Thank you for explaining how you prevent anonymous postings.

    The benefits and disadvantages of allowing anonymity in internet discussion forums have been discussed frequently here. If you are interested in the views people have expressed here on this matter, you can look at the SEARCH CONVERSATIONS box to the left on this page and search for "anonymous."
  • Oct 2 2013: Mr. Reisner, thank you for your comments and the conversation. I hope I can clarify. The World Table addresses incivility in online communications, particularly with relevance to religion and politics first by removing anonymity. False names are avoided since accounts are set up using Facebook or credit cards. Second, people must sign a pledge for conduct, and agree to a list of ethical guidelines. In addition, FRD chapter custodians are responsible for taking care of those who exhibit poor behavior in violation of the rules should that occur. Third, it uses social psychological principles, one being that by posting comments in connection with a rating system by others in key areas so that people have a desire to earn the highest rating possible. This is a form of peer pressure.

    I have asked others involved with TWT to join this conversation so perhaps they can compliment these comments and provide additional perspectives. Thanks again for your good questions and comments.
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    Oct 2 2013: I checked your site and do not understand how you expect it to transform people. If I understand correctly, you invite only people willing to share their names and religious and political affiliation. A central activity on the site, as I hear it, is to grade each other and people outside the community on a number of criteria of civility.

    In theory someone who enjoys this sort of grading exercise might join under a false name, as trolls typically do, provide false information and then begin to engage if they choose. At this point, what your site brings in relative to a site with thumbs up and thumbs down is a more refined grading mechanism. I did not read documentation on the site as to whether there is a score low enough that you would delete the troll or what that procedure would be. You might want to share that here for those who do not have time to explore your site themselves. And then what happens when the troll reenters with a new name and details and a new IP address?
    • Oct 2 2013: I'd also like to thank you Fritzie Reisner for your comment and contribution to this conversation. I've been using The World Table for about 2 weeks now and I can think of just a couple main points as to how it will transform the way people interact with each other online. One was already mentioned by John, which was that there is a sort of peer pressure at The World Table. I have found that I have become very careful, cautious, and thoughtful with my comments and remarks. I have a strong desire to make sure I say what I mean and I choose my words carefully. Not that I used to throw words around previously, but I more fully realize that I am responsible for all of my words, just like I would be in a face to face real life scenario.

      "The Way of Openness" as mentioned by John as ethical guidelines, is a fantastic set of ideals for interaction online. Each person takes this a pledge to live by these ethical guidelines. The idea is that you will be more responsible for your words as the anonymity has been removed. We don't expect the change to happen immediately however. I hope this helps answer some of your questions and concerns. Thanks again.