The flooding of K5 with superfluous articles on a narrow topic is frequently justified on the grounds that it is an important issue to "debate". However, what happens on K5 is in no real sense a debate. In a debate, debaters analyse each others statements. On K5, the arguers simply exchange unrelated statements. For example if in a debate about Israel Chuck Conservative mentions a Palestinian atrocity, Larry Liberal will not attempt to discuss that, but will ignore that issue and mention an Israeli action. These arguments are not debates, but simply the swapping of pre-arranged or third-hand mini-rants, leavened with the occasional ad hominem attack or personal insult.
This is of course a sweeping generalization. Larry Liberal might as well argue that the Palestianian actions are certainly not justifiable, but understandable in light of the situation, and that a government's actions can be easier changed for the better than that of an oppressed populace -- or something like that. I have seen many intelligent debates on K5 and (hopefully) participated in many. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of course highly emotionalized, but comments on that level quickly get rated down. (Ignore individual ratings -- only look at aggregated ratings. K5 should really only show ratings when a minimum number of ratings have been applied.)
Furthermore, even if incoherent mini-rants are exchanged, they may still settle in the reader's mind, to take an effect later on.
Hurling insults is not a debate, but K5 typically does not consist of only hurled insults -- these are quickly hidden. There are certain Tourette personalities here who can still mingle their insults with good rhetoric and therefore avoid the dreaded downmoderation, but even they are the exceptions. They may leave a strong emotional impression, though, leading to gross generalizations like yours.
Most importantly, debates on K5 are the best I've seen anywhere on the Net. They often last days and can encompass many different angles of a subject. Some participants go to huge efforts to support their posts with facts or at least decent logic. This is, in my opinion, the result of a good -- not perfect -- moderation system that keeps out the noise even as the system scales. It even has a conditioning effect: I have witnessed the conversion of several trolls. (The diary system is working against that, though.)
This style of debating seems to come from the dumbed-down debates seen on TV.
Hmm, if that's the case, people should spend more time on K5 and less in front of their TVs :-). The reality is that many K5 users, including myself, don't even own a television. I do agree to some extent -- people should better research their stories and comments, especially when dealing with complex subjects like sapphires. But that doesn't mean that the amount of stories on political subjects should be reduced (there is overexposure of course, but that's a different issue). Just set higher standards, by example if you can.
Delusion 2: You can change the mind of a political opponent
It's hard, but it isn't impossible, and the exposure to different viewpoints is the only thing that makes it possible. Already there is a strong trend for the Internet populace to be more liberal than the rest (just as there's a trend for the educated populace to be more liberal than the uneducated). Education changes minds and opens views, but this is a process that happens over several years. K5 is not even three years old, what do you expect? And even if people change, they won't often admit to doing so.
The political canvasser is a bad comparison for the same reason that the TV talk show host is a bad role model: You don't have time to exchange complex viewpoints in a door conversation. The Internet offers this time.
I am reminded of a memorable quote from an article about Annoy.com, a site specifically designated for the discussion of highly controversial subjects:
``It might sound hokey, but it's unbelievable. You get white racists and homophobic people and black racists who started communicating with each other in a way that allows them to express whatever anger or hatred or fear they have, because it's not punished,'' he said. ``Over time, I've seen people transformed.''
Delusion 3: K5 is influential
That depends on what you mean with "influential". In the slow-mind-changing sense defined above, K5 is one of the best influences there currently is. It's not the NYT, but your statistical analysis is flawed: You can't compare the article reader count with the total newspaper circulation, because the individual readership of a single newspaper article is much lower than its total circulation. As an occasional freelance writer for newspapers and magazines, I can tell you that you far overstimate the impact of backpage articles.
Furthermore, K5 articles are archived and hyperlinked. I'm quite sure that a piece like "The Casino Odyssey" still gets considerable traffic.
Lastly, K5 is great because it allows controversial viewpoints of almost all kinds to be published long as they are reasonably eloquent. Newspapers are part of the whole Chomsky-esque consent machine with all its filtering processes.
As for the political impact, I agree that the international dispersion is a major downside for most types of political action. If you want that, go to Indymedia. Nevertheless, this case is a good example for an email campaign that made a difference. Especially in local scandals, K5 can shed an international light on issues and possibly even get them into headlines elsewhere. When people working for a city council or small company suddenly start getting email from Finland and Japan simultaneously, they might rethink their actions.
But K5's readership still has to grow for it to become a detectable factor. In the current climate, that's probably a good thing.
Of those that are, many are too young to vote.
Heh, counting people who are unable to vote as politically irrelevant is cute :-). Yes, there's little point in the nth "Write to your Congressman" appeal. That's not a problem of K5 though -- it's a problem of the political system as a whole. Joining the Greens will not make much of a difference -- education on a large scale will. And K5 has the potential to provide just that.
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