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The Beer Garden Principle of Online Discussions

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Dear the Internet,

I, like most of the world, am on social media. And I, like anyone who expresses an opinion and is on social media, have people feeling the need to tell me, a complete stranger, without any prompting, just how stupid I am.

My standard response is straightforward: blockity-block-block.

And I know that part of it is because of the format of Twitter. That’s because it’s the modern equivalent of people yelling out of bus windows: it’s possible to say something meaningful, I guess, but much easier just to tell someone they suck.

And because I have a largely-public-ish Facebook page there are sometimes people who feel that they’re welcome to hove in and have their ill-spelled and/or aggressively stupid say, for reasons I can’t fathom.

And those people get blocked, obviously, because they are loud, obnoxious bullies.

“B-b-but Andrew,” you might theoretically reply, “what about the precious freedom of speech! You’re denying them their all-important right to insult complete strangers in public! Do you want Australia to be North Nazi Russia Korea, commie?”

So, in order that I might have a handy link that I can send to jerks before blocking them – and hey, thanks for reading, jerks! – allow me to outline what I’d like to call the Beer Garden Principle of Online Discussions, which is based on years of meticulous research carried out in our nation’s pubs.

And it goes like this:

If I’m sitting at a table with friends in a public beer garden and having a conversation, and someone comes over and says “excuse me, couldn’t help overhearing what you were talking about, mind if I join you?” then they will generally be welcome.

If, however, they barge in and start screaming insults into my friends’ faces, I have zero problem immediately getting the bouncers to turf them out.

I feel this is a good model for online discussions, and also for life in general – not least because hanging with friends in beer gardens is time well spent.

You have an opinion that relates to a discussion and you wish to raise it respectfully in the interests of deepening a conversation? Excellent! You want to call me a fucktard, or change the subject to your own scared crackpot theories? Off you fuck, there’s a good little solider.

I encourage you to use this The Beer Garden Principle in your own lives. Free and open debate is a good thing; abuse is not. Disagreement is useful; threats are not. You don’t owe anyone your time or your attention, in beer gardens or on Twitter. Your time, your choice.

And for those reading this after stamping their angry little feet about something or other and finding themselves blocked, I made you this:

kitty fee fees

Let the healing begin!

Yours ever,

APS

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3 comments on “The Beer Garden Principle of Online Discussions

  1. Konstantina Vlahos

    Excuse me, I couldn’t help overeading your conversation. Just wanted to say – your articles make my week!

  2. Patrick Bateman

    It’s a reasonable enough proposition. One small quibble though. As a writer, you benefit from the fact that your (generally excellent) writing is available to millions of people with minimal effort required by them to access it. In this sense, it’s not really analagous to a beer garden, because you are implicitly inviting all of these strangers to hear your thoughts on the world by publishing it in an unrestricted way. You aren’t setting up a private Facebook/Twitter space where only you and your beer garden friends can converse (which you could do easily enough). You have presumably made that choice to maximise your audience. The natural consequence of this is that those same strangers have a corresponding ability to respond, and frequently seek to do so.

    I guess my point is: you invite millions of people, some of them dickheads, to consider your thoughts and words. It’s not surprising, or particularly outrageous, for some fraction of them to comment on said thoughts and words, and for a further fraction of that fraction to be comprised of the aforementioned dickheads.

    I think a closer analogy would be you standing on a soapbox on a street corner making a speech. It doesn’t mean it’s ok for people to abuse you, of course, but nor are people bound by quite the same rules of etiquette which would apply to a private conversation.

  3. Just finished your book on Capt. Abbott. Enjoyed it immensely. I was hoping Mungo would rush a book out on the same saga..you beat him but have the same irreverent and slightly lefty outlook…as do I..so your book struck a chord. Keep up the good work!

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