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I’ve heard numerous times that the answer to oppositional speech is not to silence them, it’s more speech. As I interact with people online and in real life, I’m not so sure the answer is so simple.

People suffer heavily from confirmation bias. As your article notes (which eerily enough, someone in a class I took last Spring did the same project and got very similar results), some people have easier minds to change than others. Many people on the internet simply do not want to have their minds changed, and they won’t let any arguments or facts affect them. These people cannot be reasoned with, and arguing against them only reinforces their belief.

Having open platforms and free speech is a necessary but not sufficient condition to progressive dialogue, by which I don’t mean pushing a progressive agenda but in changing people’s minds and opening them up to other points of view. Totally free and open platforms allow for progressive dialogue, but do not guarantee it.

There has to be other factors at play. One way to encourage progressive dialogue is to restrict speech, close rabbit holes that people get lost in and that don’t lead anywhere useful. Of course, someone will try to argue that every rabbit hole leads somewhere important, or that because not all people have gone through the motions of a certain argument that line of reasoning shouldn’t be closed off. In this case, arguing for free speech is also arguing for wasting time going over arguments that are known by a subset of the population to not be useful.

The other restriction I can think of is not on speech itself, but on presentation. On /r/changemyview, posters are all given the same comment box to make their argument in, and there are no restrictions on how they must formulate their argument. What this means is that actually relatively few posters get their minds changed. But what if /r/changemyview forced posters to write at least 5 sentences, checked for language to make people use “I” instead of “we”, and essentially gave people a slightly more complex mad-lib to fill out? If we know how people who are actually open to having their minds change post their questions, forcing others to conform to that model may make their minds more open by making these people write and think in a way more open minded people do.

This way people can say whatever they want, but in the interest of progressive dialogue they have to frame their questions and answers in a way that is proven more conducive to changing minds.

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