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Great Minds Think Unalike: Why Arguments Are Essential in Healthy Online Communities

By Kristen Dunleavy

Debate is an essential part of democracy.

Today, debates are increasingly taking place in public, online. In fact, 1 in 5 US adults say they’re engaged in online arguments.

So it follows that, as the hosts of public discourse, publishers should expect a fair amount of arguing in their communities. After all, some of the top reasons why people engage in online communities are because they want to express themselves and have their voice heard.

But arguments are not something to shy away from: they’re a healthy part of online discourse and shouldn’t be confused with toxicity. They help move the conversation forward, and can also move key metrics. If your community has a fair amount of arguing going on, that may actually be a sign that you’re doing something right.

So, why might arguments be a “plus” for publishers? And how can you tell the difference between a discord and toxicity? Let’s take a look.

Arguments are a sign of a healthy community 

All online environments host arguments—but in communities that are effectively moderated, those arguments can be both healthy and productive. That’s because moderation provides a safe environment where a diverse range of voices and opinions can be heard. Because moderation leads to higher quality conversations, more people feel encouraged to express themselves, reply to others, and spend more time reading the conversation.

In this environment where the free and open exchange of ideas is possible, some of those exchanges will be disagreements—and that’s OK. It’s unrealistic to assume that everyone in a community will agree 100% of the time.

Toxicity and arguments are not one in the same

Now, it’s important to note that the discord that can happen in online arguments is not the same as toxicity. Toxicity shuts down conversations, while a healthy, productive argument encourages conversations. 

Let’s look at two versions of the same comment:

The first comment uses name-calling and essentially shuts the conversation down. It’s easy to see how a conversation can quickly devolve when toxic behavior goes unchecked: a comment like this one could elicit a reply that also uses name-calling.

The second comment states a disagreement, but it avoids making a personal attack. It’s more likely that the person on the other side will explain their viewpoint without resorting to name-calling.

Arguments benefit publisher-hosted communities

According to the International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research, healthy arguments have some additional benefits for members of your community.

At their core, arguments give your audience a chance to open up and share their opinions—something that humans intrinsically want to do. They can lead to mutual understandings of issues that were previously unknown to either party, providing educational moments and even driving real social change. They also inspire creativity and new ideas because arguments help people learn. 

Arguments don’t only benefit those who participate, either. Users who are simply reading the conversation receive the same benefits: they can learn and gain new perspectives by reading active arguments. 

Finally, publishers should know that healthy arguments can help keep conversations alive in their community and thus lead to increased user engagement and more time spent on-site. These active users—or users who spend time reading, liking comments, and/or replying to other comments—view 8.7x more pages than non-engaged users who simply visit a publisher’s site without engaging. And, in an effectively moderated community, users are more likely to leave quality comments when they read quality conversations, continuing the cycle of engagement.

Life would be boring if we agreed all the time

All communities have some level of disagreement and discord. Communities that are effectively moderated allow the free and open exchange of ideas—and healthy, productive arguments will always happen. As the hosts of public debate, it’s important for publishers to take steps to create safe and healthy environments where discourse can take place without the fear of toxicity taking over. Learn more about the role of moderation in online conversations.

Let’s have a conversation.

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