Ok so there's been a lot of discussion lately regarding the forums, particularly the ones well known for controversial topics and "spirited" debate.
I've been reflecting a lot on this, and on ways in which I could personally help improve the situation based on my own observations as well as lessons I've learned the hard way. I've decided to compile a list of things I've learned and turn them into tips, that maybe other will find them useful. Practically all of these are things I learned by screwing it up first, and then having to figure out a better approach. I also invite and encourage people to add their own to this.
I don't mean to be preachy here AT ALL. This is a list of things I sometimes remind myself of so I'm sharing it with others.
DO: Remember that everybody has their own beliefs, perspectives and opinions. Your beliefs and opinions aren't morally superior just because you hold them. People who disagree with you are not, by definition, immoral, deluded, stupid, ignorant or wrong. Be respectful. You'd want the same in return, right?
DON'T: Call someone else's view ignorant. The forum board has rules against attacking people personally, but it needn't stop there. Insulting someone's views or opinions is tantamount to insulting them directly, since people's views are a very personal and important thing to them. Don't disregard that just because theirs are different from yours.
DO: Remember that nobody's likely to change their mind as a result of debate on an Internet Forum. That's perfectly fine. It's as it should be. Enjoy it. Listen to those who disagree because it's always beneficial to see other perspectives. Remember we're all just a bunch of armchair quarterbacks with an opinion. Nothing more.
DON'T: be afraid to look at things from someone else's point of view. The only reason to fear is if on some level you don't have confidence in your own convictions and are afraid you may change your mind. If that's the case, it's probably best not to debate that particular topic because then it's much harder to keep your cool.
DO: Take a break from responding if a reply upsets you for any reason. Sometimes we misread a post in a way that makes it seem much more inflammatory than it really is, or upon taking time out, we are better able to reply without flaming.
DON'T: take the bait if someone does reply in anger. At that point, you won't be listened to objectively anyway so it's better just to let it go. Now that's hard to do sometimes because it feels like a retreat, but that's the problem... If you're thinking about it in those terms then the discussion needs to end. Online debate is like war. No winners, only at least one loser.
DO: Reply to a post or article quote with an actual argument. Just criticizing someone's source or opinion alone doesn't offer a new point. All it does is make you look like you haven't got an argument, and it makes the poster you're responding to feel like you can't be bothered to take his effort seriously, so why should he take yours seriously? If you must attack a source, back it up with a source of your own.
DON'T: post just to say "tldr." What people see when you type that is "I haven't read the post through but I'm gonna make a comment anyway." Well, why bother then, since your comment is uninformed?
DO: Try to avoid sarcasm. Sometimes sarcasm is intended to be mean, sometimes funny, but it can be VERY VERY hard to even tell when someone's being sarcastic in the first place, let alone interpret the mood behind it. Better to just avoid the problems, or if you absolutely must use sarcasm, it's helpful to tag it by saying something like "/sarcasm" or using an emote.
DON'T: Refuse to read someone's source or link. It's a courtesy we pay to each other to look at the sources presented. By failing to do so, we not only look like we're afraid, but we also come across as being obstinate and stubborn, and how's it fun to debate with someone like that?
DO: Have fun. A good debate is like a chess game. Point - counterpoint back and forth until the topic peters out or someone concedes. The latter almost never happens, but who cares? That's not the point, remember?