Image borrowed form Karen C.L. Anderson’s blog.

It’s Time We Make Contesting Ideas As Easy As Sharing Them

Being tolerant doesn’t mean that we enable (or accept) intolerance on the platform, services, or tools we build

Recently I’ve been disheartened by some postings on Medium which are full of half-truths, innuendo, and even blatant lies meant to distort reality and undermine civil society. This type of content is no longer hidden in the dark creases of the Web. Increasingly we’re seeing it leapfrog into and proliferate across social and publishing platforms.

I want to be clear: this isn’t about restricting speech. We need more speech, not less—whether it is counter to our ideas or not. What I’m talking about here is content which is being created specifically to deceive or misinform. In the past this content was on the fringe. It was marginalized or kept off the field of play by gatekeepers (#oldmedia) who served the role of refereeing (#editors, #fact-checkers) distortions.

However, I’m not arguing that we should take these types of legacy mechanisms and force their application here. Rather, what I am saying is as new models emerge, we should imagine new ways for these open publishing platforms to think about, and more importantly, have a process for how these sort of refereeing functions are performed in newer spaces of expression.

As technologists we spent a great deal of time creating mechanisms and tools to make content more shareable in order to make our product and services more promotable. So as Medium—and others—work to become a new type of publishing platform I’d suggest also focusing on how to make it just as easy to confront questionable stories as it is to share/promote them.

Let’s move beyond the private action of flagging or in Medium’s case “Report Story.” It’s time to enable a wide range of ways to contest stories, so just as you can heart or like a post on a platform you should be able to visibly “challenge” the claims of an article. And just as you can highlight a passage on Medium you agree with, you should be able to “dispute” passages as well (consider extending the ability to highlight by being able to include a citation link).

Ultimately, the burden of facts should lay to bear on the author, not just the audience. Just because you can publish something on the Web, doesn’t mean you should. Nor does it mean that it should go unchallenged. We should allow for—in fact, foster—the contesting of ideas out in the open, on the page next to disinformation, not simply buried in comments, disconnected in unlinked posts, or hidden away in a platform moderator’s queue.

It’s time we bring debate and accountability tools to the forefront of publishing, just as we brought sharing tools.


Originally published as a series of tweets: