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How to be part of a seriously good community

It has been a tough few years for proponents of respectful disagreement in public forums. Conversations on social media platforms have been dominated by heated arguments over US politics and polarising social issues such as same-sex marriage. Fake news has effectively been used to divide groups who have much in common.

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There are strong indications that social media users are drawing away from online dialogue forums, with people sharing less content in news feeds (where all their social media friends can see them and comment on them) and sharing more content through messaging and in groups (reducing the number of people who can converse about it).

We’re also committed to creating spaces where Eternity News readers can have seriously good conversations about the news

Earlier this year, Facebook executive Adam Mosseri told Columbia Journalism Review podcast‘s audience that the volume of social media content posted to “stories” – another form of sharing social media content that doesn’t make a space for dialogue – is increasing so rapidly that he expected it to eclipse the volume of content posted to news feeds soon.

At Eternity News, we believe that the gospel is seriously good news for all people. We’re passionate about reporting seriously good news, reporting good news seriously and reporting news in a seriously good way!

We’re also committed to creating spaces where Eternity News readers can have seriously good conversations about the news –  exploring what it means to be people of faith in our world. But we’re seeing the same withdrawing from online forums that Facebook is reporting. Stories that data shows us are being widely read on our website, often sit on social media, with very few likes, shares and comments to indicate readers are engaging with them. People, it seems, are eager to read the good news, but hesitant to enter the fray of public conversation.

Surely all our conversations – even robust disagreements – can be conducted in a manner that is respectful of the image of God that is in all people?

We think that giving up on public conversation spaces is a loss for us all. But we know we’ve all got a lot of work ahead of us if anything’s going to change. Surely all our conversations – even robust disagreements – can be conducted in a manner that is respectful of the image of God that is in all people? After all, online conversations are real life conversations! Can’t we approach them by asking, “Would I say these things if I were sitting across from the person I am speaking to?”

We want to create forums where online conversations add personal insight and fresh perspective to the news we report, so, we’re looking for comments that are: relevant and on topic; well-informed and thoughtful; expressed respectfully; framed personally with “I” statements (i.e. that speak on behalf of the author, not others); draw out the implications of ideas discussed in our articles; and inclusive of all those who contribute their perspectives, particularly those people whose voices can be marginalised in public conversations.

In contrast, we don’t want online conversations dominated by only a few individuals who express ‘the same old ideas’ again and again, so we’re not looking for comments that are: unrelated to the article’s content and/or are instead an off-topic response to the article’s subject matter, image or headline; statements of opinion, expressed as if they are fact; derisive or attacking of others who express different opinions; reinforcing of stereotypes and generalisations, especially about people you disagree with; and framed with ‘he, she or they’ statements (i.e. speaking on behalf of others).

And so we’ve put our heads together and come up with a set of guidelines for our online spaces that we hope will provide a framework for Eternity News readers engaging in online conversations. Crowd-sourced from our readers, and checked against industry standards, we’re confident that these guidelines will help all of us feel out the boundaries of conducting ourselves in conversations online… lest we allow these forums with their potential, to simply slip away.

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