A number of expats living in Ho Chi Minh City have shared their opinions with Tuoi Tre News on how we should engage in public debates.
The opinions were given in response to a request from the newspaper after a local traffic expert complained that he had received a lot of negative comments over his suggestion to ban motorbikes to ease congestion.
Keyboard warrior attitude
I see a lot of debates on some of the forums, I always try not to get involved, because a lot of the debates are very immature, and some people are significantly older than me. I see a lot of people who unfortunately are often not very friendly. They’re very one-sided and I think they’re often blind to their bias, or even racist.
Sometimes I see foreigners write things like “Vietnamese are this, Vietnamese always eat like this, Vietnamese drive like this”. That really bothers me.
Timen R. T. Swijtink is seen in a photo he provided to Tuoi Tre News
There are a lot of people who have a lot of time, I don’t know where they get the time from, to just stay behind a computer, reading comments, replying and staying up to date with what’s happening. Sometimes I feel that people create fake profiles to stalk new debates, and they must have a lot of time because to set up a whole new profile, they have to have another email address because Facebook doesn’t allow two accounts on one email.
When people debate online, lots of them have that ‘keyboard warrior’ attitude which is just trolling for the purpose of their own entertainment. One of the things that makes people more aggressive online is their anonymity. What I’ve come to understand is that the people who seem to be the most aggressive often don’t have a profile picture, or at least a real profile picture. I think a lot of people like that have something else going on in their life that makes them behave like that.
Real debates are very different. At the moment there are not a lot of channels for debate in the first place. To be quite frank, it’s not really taught at school, in general in Asia, at least before university. A lot of the ways people learn is to be relatively one-way, like a stream of information; you listen to the teachers and you maybe ask your questions but it’s not really ‘oh I disagree with what you just said’.
Timen R. T. Swijtink from the Netherlands
I try to engage in debates quite often, although I much prefer doing so in person than online. It’s difficult to achieve a balanced discussion when people are ‘faceless' and they can’t interact in the same space. I think the problem is that many people engaging others online feel that standard debating etiquette (that most people follow when speaking together in person) doesn’t apply when they are arguing through their computer/phone. When you are talking directly to a person’s face, you normally filter what you are saying to take the other person’s feelings into account and prevent a shouting match. So the anonymity allows people to lose their filter and argue without social restrictions - I think that’s why personal insults are so common online.
Stu Miller is seen in a photo he provided to Tuoi Tre News
The age of the internet has made it so much easier for people to go in a particular direction with their opinions and ideals, and then to only surround themselves with people and information that agrees with them. The one or two news websites that we visit every day, the people on our Facebook feed and the articles that they share, the bloggers and tweeters that we follow - this is what we now refer to as our ‘bubble’. I think a majority of people don’t have enough variety in their bubble - not enough people/information that challenges their currently held views. This is a huge problem, because our opinions become so deeply entrenched that it becomes almost impossible to ever consider other viewpoints, let alone be open to change our minds (even when logic and facts are clearly pointing another way). So, I think our isolated bubbles causing narrow-mindedness, combined with the anonymity of the internet, are the main causes of such aggressive and personal attacks on people with different opinions.
For me, there are two essential parts to an effective and successful debate. Firstly, we should always try to keep an open mind and open ears to consider differing and opposite views. Listen to the other side. Secondly, stay constructive - don’t resort to personal insults. Attacking a person's statements and arguments is fine - but when you attack them personally, you can never win.
Education can help people to learn how to debate, in terms of using respectful and appropriate language. However, I think the most important thing is to encourage an education system that teaches students to think critically and independently, and that the journey to find answers is often as (or more) important that the answers themselves.
I remember at least some of my teachers helped me to think for myself and to discover answers instead of just asking for them. I'm definitely grateful for that and try to motivate my own students to do the same.
The first important rule I have is that I will never just give my students answers 'on a plate' - they have to think for themselves, as well as work together, to find solutions. Secondly, when students are debating their opinions, it is essential to let them know that no-one is 100% right or wrong, as long as they can support and justify their arguments. I also try to help them understand that having an opinion not shared by the majority does not make you automatically wrong - that is something that not normally taught, not only in Vietnam but in far too many education systems around the world.
Finally, I ask my students to debate with an open mind and be prepared to alter their point of view if they honestly believe a different perspective has more merit.
Stu Miller from England
Having a healthy culture of debate
Having a healthy culture of debate is important in every country because it helps us to improve our society and to make decisions about what kind of behavior and morals are acceptable. The way to have a healthy culture of debate is to have a well-educated society. If a society is highly literate, then people are free to research and read for themselves. In a healthy debate, people may disagree but to avoid causing offense, it is important to use facts and evidence and to ask questions. When we behave well, we have so much knowledge to gain.
Joshua Reed is seen in a photo he provided to Tuoi Tre News
I am from the US and the laws about what one can say on social media are not very strict, however, people on social media are very focused on getting evidence and support. So even in conversations between friends, people are talking about good news sources and critical thinking. In our modern society, Internet trolls or bullies are people who enjoy arguing and intimidating others. Bullies have always existed and I do not think that new technology means that there are more bullies, but it does make it easier for them to be heard. Most people use social media and technology for good reasons: keeping in touch with their family, working, studying, and relaxing. Most of the time I see young people using social media to stay in touch with family and friends, make plans, and keep in contact about school work. The internet trolls have always existed, the internet has just given them a new way to have an audience, and I truly believe the bad actors would behave badly whether they had the internet or just an old-fashioned pencil and paper. However, all of the social media platforms include a way to block bullies and it is important that everyone know how to protect themselves online.
It is never too young to encourage children to think critically. Learning to read, encouraging children to be curious, ask questions, learn about things that interest them and share information, these are all ways that teach children how to use words to solve disagreements. Technology is only going continue to be part of our life, and we all have a responsibility to teach children to respect and behave toward others the same whether they are sitting in a chair next to us or at a computer 10.000 km away.
Joshua Reed, staff at RMIT International University