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Noisy Idiots


My ITP classmate, Catherine White, has set up a community on Ning to discuss her ongoing project.  In her own words:

My research is primarily focused on how we work together in groups, particularly how to make collaboration more fruitful, and efficient (and less painful – because it sometimes is). Specifically, I am looking at groups we are part of online.

My thesis project came out of a midterm paper I wrote in March for Clay Shirky’s Social Facts class. I studied a forum online and discovered that there are some people who can be pretty disruptive in groups – even though they may not be violating the rules of the group. Its these people I’m interested in studying, to see how we can structure and govern groups to make collaboration enjoyable, not painful – and to ensure that group decisions reflect the group as a whole….

One small explanation about the term ‘Noisy Idiots’ – my main aim is to find ways to include people in debate and groups. The phrase came about in a playful manner due to sheer frustration at seeing some people dominate group discussion in a disruptive way. This paper tackles tricky issues such as balancing free speech and constructive conversation, but the aim is to get us all talking and listening to each other. I also understand the very important role that minority voices play in conversation – and am in no way suggesting that we shouldn’t listen to those with a view that is different to ours.

I’d be hugely grateful to hear your thoughts – and your ideas, thank you.

Read the the draft of Catherine’s paper and join the conversation at the Noisy Idiots Ning Community.

Here are my preliminary thoughts on the topic (Cross-posted on Ning):

Maybe you should put the paper online in wiki form and see what the crowd of angry idiots do to it 😉

I understand that the choice to use the term “noisy idiots” is meant to be eye-catching and edgy, but what exactly do you mean by “extreme” viewpoints? If the Pirate Party or right-wing groups can elect MEPs to Brussels, than it represents in a way, that their views have been institutionalized or become more “mainstream” even if they are still minority viewpoints.

I guess what I have to more clearly distinguish between noisy/idiotic views and noisy/idiotic rhetorical styles (i.e. trolling). I have some far-from-mainstream political views, but I don’t usually go around harassing strangers on the street or online about them. You make this distinction on page 8, but I guess it would have been clearer if the definitions were made sooner.

You do clearly state that the paper is not about minority viewpoints, but about bad netiquette, however, I would argue that behaving outrageously is almost an essential tool for a minority group looking to make change in the world, whether their persecution if real or simply perceived.

If you look at history, many (most?) revolutionary changes have begun with a small group of noisy idiots, who keep it up until something in the socio-political climate tilts in their favor. While compromise and meeting “in the center” are crucial to the sustainability of a democratic system, the seemingly pathological rantings of the lunatic fringe can serve as important indicators of the health of the body politic. The question then becomes, how and why would someone come to believe that all Muslims should be deported in the first place? (substitute with any other “noisy idiot” belief)

Online fora are a place to blow off steam. In the fora you describe, it is doubtful that the people involved actually know each other in real life, or their identities are safely hidden behind pseudonyms. If I’m a noisy idiot, I know deep down that my online rantings are not going change anything. I’m either preaching to the choir or annoying people who disagree with me. Bottom line, trolling online makes me FEEL GOOD without having to take any risks, unlike trying to foment direct action in the name of my idiot cause on the streets. Posting on an online forum allows me to air my opinions that I wouldn’t otherwise hear in the mainstream media or political debate.

“Is there any other way.” It seems that the established solution is to raise the walls of homophily. After all, isn’t this why people live in gated communities, as to avoid the social friction of interacting with “the other”? Snark aside, the point is that the democratic process is messy, and not always civil and polite. YouTube Taiwanese politicians fighting to get an extreme case of what I mean. The more we scale up the size of a community, the more we have to break down into smaller units or sub-groups. That is why Congress has committees and the US is divided into states. We subdivide and compartmentalize in order to specialize and to better solve problems. The upside of homophily is reduced friction and increased group productivity and efficiency. The downside is that homophilous groups may get stale and eventually run out of new ideas. We do want Noisy Idiots sometimes to stir things up and “shock” us into new ways of doing things and inspire new ways forward. Noisy Idiots sometimes, but not too much. Find the balance and you save the princess and the Nobel Prize and World Peace are yours.

Also, related to your paper, you’ve seen this article, right?
NY Times: Ideas Online, Yes, but Some Not So Presidential
When the White House asked people to post ideas on open government on a new Web site, it heard about U.F.O.’s, marijuana and the president’s birth certificate.

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