We’re creating a Facebook Group to debate American politics

Where eagles dare

I know the pluralistic vision of the internet can often be poisoned by trolls or at least hamstrung by people who just don’t want to listen to alternative viewpoints. But sod it — let’s have another go anyway.

Some of us still cling to the idea that the internet can open up our minds and expose us to new viewpoints (news: it really can).

So we have to do what we can to make this happen. At The Economist we’ve been talking for a while about creating a Facebook Group where people who consume our content can talk about it and debate it. Sure, they can do that in the comments on economist.com or on a Facebook post, but with a group, I as a community editor will have much more control and freedom over managing the discussion.

Management will be essential, to make sure different voices are heard and treated fairly. So I’ll be around, but really it’ll be members who will account for most of the activity. I really want to create a place where people of all political colours and none can discuss such topics as:

  • Why so few people are politically engaged: 93% of Trump voters and 90% of Clinton voters did not attend a single political rally
  • How Trump’s America is different from Obama’s — and what this means for the future
  • Why some people turn up to vote and others don’t
  • How diverse experiences of race and wealth are contributing to a huge shift in American politics

The topic of American politics will test our ability to maintain civility and order. But that’s the experiment. In other words:

Are there enough people who want to have a civil, bipartisan debate that they won’t allow noisy, rude, unthinking people to drown them out?

Other publishers are maintaining a range of Facebook Groups for different reasons. Here are some of the more interesting ways that publishers are using this feature:

  • PostThis by the Washington Post — it’s great to see a newspaper running a group dedicated to journalism about accountability and transparency in government. It’ll probably only ever be a relatively small group, but it’s important work.
  • New York Times Australia — a cool way to get readers and editorial staff talking to each other around provocative journalism.

And Facebook just announced some cool changes to Groups to make them easier to run and evaluate.

The internet presents novel challenges and solutions to public discussion, but the idea of using news analysis to spark debate is not new. Indeed, this very blog is named Severe Contest after a line in The Economist’s founding mission: to “take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”.

So debating is in our genes. We like to throw out provocative arguments in all our content. And our social media team enjoys the challenge this sets us daily, whether it’s sharing a column on Facebook, engaging in industry discussion about how digital media is evolving here on this blog or, now, forming a Facebook Group.

This group will be part of a wider initiative we’re running to find better ways for online comments, as outlined by my colleague Denise Law.

If you’re interested in joining our Facebook Group as a founding member, please sign up at the form below or by clicking here. We should be live soon.

Adam Smith is deputy community editor at The Economist.