I love free speech.
I also love ignore, mute and block.
As a child I read that Viking ships were the terror of the seas. They were low-build with a large sail and oars, which made them fast, allowed them to enter shallow waters, and its crew packed a lot of punch (Want an exercise for fighting with hand-weapons? Try rowing.). If you were on a trading ship traveling from port to port to make a profit, you were pretty much screwed when they appeared on the horizon. However, this changed abruptly when these traders began to build ships with higher hulls. Now, the decks of the trader ships were far above those of the Viking ships. It made it very hard for the Vikings to board these trading ships, while allowing its defenders to bombard the low-build Viking ships with arrows and other nasties.
Not sure whether this account is true, but thinking about Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement a bit longer, I think it could function the same way for online discussions. I mean, you go along with your business to discuss something, like a trader traveling from A to B, and then those wanna-be raiders appear who do not contribute to the conversation. Outright trolls and those who have nothing to offer but their own emotional outrage, frequently resorting to name calling, ad hominems arguments, or snide remarks about the tone.
I wonder whether it would be possible to use Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement to raise the hull a bit higher as well. Automatically color-code the contributions according to the level of disagreement and filter out those below a certain threshold. (Using the Hierarchy of Agreement would be also useful, although many people might not want to do so.)
With such a classification system on a website or Twitter feed … you still could see that there are hidden “contributions”, the type and amount. And some contributions would have to be split if they contain different levels. But you could focus on the contributions that advance the discussion. Advance it by engaging with counter-arguments and rebuttals that are relevant and meaningful. It would advance the conversation in terms of knowledge generation, free exchange of ideas and arguments, testing the strength of arguments, etc. pp. You could also see the profiles of the participants with a classification of the quality of their disagreement — how often they use which kinds of disagreements. It would allow you to seek out conversations with those who disagree on a high level, who might actually advance the conversation. Those people might be interesting for a hangout, or a Delphi study.
You could still tap into the lower levels of the pyramid, if you want to, but on your terms. When you want and in the amount you want. It would give you an impression of the underbelly without becoming worn out by it. They are inconsequential anyway. Given the skewed self-selected online samples, they don’t tell you anything about the prevalence in society. And persuasion in such a public forum is usually rare, due to public commitment.
So far, there are some forums which automatically hide comments that get too many downvotes. But that is rather unspecific. A downvote can be anything, from “does not contribute” to “I disagree with the position”. But such a system would be more specific.
Perhaps we get there one day. But until we have such a tool, we have to do it ourselves. Quickly sort out through the contributions, discard the ones on the lower levels and focus on the higher ones. Find the diamonds in a sea of pebbles, and the places where more people contribute diamonds than pebbles.