Learning English through Debating

The Hong Kong Daily Press invites readers to submit their views on the following topic:

Do social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter encourage or stifle public debate? When first created, social media was thought to be a place where rational debate and logic would thrive. However, as time has shown, this is not always the case.

  • Write an argumentative essay
  • Choose one side of the argument and state your position, giving reasons and evidence to support your view
  • Include a title for your essay

Social Media: A Platform for Rationality & Logic?

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter allows us to convey our own thoughts and comment on others’ thoughts as well. It is thought that it can encourage rational discussion when different views are exchanged. However, in reality, when it comes to public affairs, social media falls short of promoting rational public debate. For example, in recent years, as the political climate in Hong Kong becomes very tense, the discussion on these social media platforms has become a battlefield among people having opposite political views. The dispute is so heated and harmful that people start to withdraw from expressing their political views openly on these social media sites. Public debate becomes silenced.

Public debate on these social media platforms are in fact less rational and logical than we would have thought. In order to grab viewers’ attention, social media users tend to post provoking or emotional remarks about current news or social issues. They intend to arouse others’ emotions and drive the conversations rather than raise rational discussion.  Moreover, the thoughts and comments are mostly impulsive rather than thoroughly examined. Rational public debate mostly does not happen.

The fact that like-minded people flock together and exclude dissidents stifles public debate. Social media tends to show the content from people whom we like or who are similar to us. Social media users are fed with what they like to see and hear and are less exposed to the other side. Moreover, when people talk about political and social issues on these sites, people tend to prefer listening to similar comments rather than opposite views. If someone voice out dissenting views, they are likely to become the target of attack and be abused verbally. Therefore, the dissidents will shy away from expressing opposite views to protect themselves from hostile insults or bullies. 

It turns out that people unfriend those whose views are opposite to theirs; as a result, there is only one side of opinions allowed, not to mention public debate. In the matter of public affairs which concerns the core values and interests of Hong Kong people, people of opposite views stand against each other. When one side notices that the opposite side expresses dissenting views, it will draw massive criticism from the other side.  People vent their anger and resentment on the person who represents the other side. It happens that some people feel so emotionally hurt that they unfriend their enemies. There is a great divide among people having opposite political views. Rational public debate becomes impossible.

To conclude, as far as social media is concerned, on the one hand, it can facilitate people to express and share their own views; on the other hand, it cannot be relied on for rational discussion. As such, the traditional form of media such as newspaper forum, radio forum and academic paper are still a more reliable platform for rational public debate to take place.

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