The 5 Comment Theory of the Political Blogosphere

I have a 5-comment theory on political internet chatter. The theory goes that (once commenters start a post-article dialogue) somewhere after the first to the fifth comment, the line of argument will either have gone completely off-course or will have devolved into pure id-driven rage or eroticism.

The latter usually happens when commenters can remain anonymous. The former just usually happens.

So, I say, why bother? You won’t convince someone to change their core beliefs in an online conversation. So, all you can do is give them the information that you think is important and let them absorb it over time. Eventually, even if you were the catalyst, they will convince themselves over time that this is their own idea or belief and consistent with their past thoughts. And they will also be convinced that any change was completely self-driven and rational, given a propensity of evidence to which they’ve been exposed.

Here is a network analytic picture of the right/left blogosphere and their connections (via links) to other political sights. As you see, there really isn’t a lot of cross-polination going on, or an open debate of ideas. We are all “guilty” of this phenomenon. Daily Kos and Salon are not exactly tapping ideas from Reason or Commentary magazines.

We aren’t apt to expose ourselves to information that counters the causal theories of our core moral attitudes and beliefs. And if we do, we need a propensity of evidence and gentle prodding to recognize the validity of it.

I don’t propose an end to debate, of course. What I propose is that everyone stop taking their side so seriously without being prepared to defend their arguments in a formally structured debate format.