Online discourse should encourage understanding, not violence

COMMENTARY: My sister works at Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, where terrorists killed 14 people and injured another 21 on Wednesday. Fortunately, she wasn’t there at the time of the attack.

Heath Haussamen

Heath Haussamen

A friend is a police officer in Colorado Springs, where a gunman killed three people, including another officer, and injured nine, on Nov. 27.

My parents were in Paris for the first time in their lives days before terrorists killed 130 people there.

And I live in Las Cruces, where police still haven’t made any arrests related to the bombs that detonated at two Las Cruces churches on Aug. 3, thankfully injuring nobody.

Recent events have many people on edge, angry, sad, and scared. I’m among them.

With emotions running high, people are debating issues including gun ownership, racism, abortion, religion, terrorism, immigration, police shootings, and America’s role in the world.

At the heart of our problem, in my view, is the way we’re debating those issues and treating each other. I constantly moderate debates on’s website and Facebook page. In spite of my best efforts, too many of those conversations have recently degraded into spite-filled bomb-throwing.

The unwillingness of some to treat others with even a basic level of respect and human decency has stunned me. It’s also made me believe that, while we can and should debate policy issues related to guns and shootings, there’s a deeper issue:

We’re too willing to respond to our disagreements with hate and violence.

Some news organizations share blame. Too many churn out salacious and superficial reporting that, at best, oversimplifies issues and, at worst, intentionally drives wedges in an already polarized society.

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool. Used for good, it can help people understand, find common ground, and organize. Too often, we’re instead using it as an outlet for our fears and biases. We gather into tribes and rant about and at others.

Since we’re not getting to know a real human being over a cup of coffee, it’s easier to treat the person we’re arguing with as an object.

The result is that, collectively, we view each other with greater suspicion. In too many instances, the venom we spew online contributes to hatred of people we don’t understand. We’re creating a climate that breeds extremism and can push fragile people over the edge.

All are welcome here

I restarted in June with a fundamental belief that the best path forward is together. We realize our potential and evolve when we work through our disagreements. Our society breaks down when we resort to fighting and demonizing each other. is founded on my deep belief that people must do the hard work of listening and understanding each other. It’s about tearing down walls and building bridges.

This is my answer to the ills that plague our world. I choose hope. I choose to believe we can overcome our differences and find a way forward. And I’m working with all my heart, soul, mind and strength toward that end.

Everyone is welcome to participate in the community. To be more explicit, here’s a list — not exhaustive — of the people who are welcome here:

Democrats, Republicans, people registered to vote as a member of a minor party, people registered to vote without any party affiliation, people who choose to not register to vote, men, women, white people, black people, brown people, people of any race or ethnic background, straight people, LGBTQIA people, people who don’t label themselves as straight or anything LGBTQIA encompasses, old people, young people, conservatives, liberals, progressives, Tea Party members, socialists, fascists, people who want to ban guns, people with concealed-carry permits, immigrants, people who want to see the deportation of those living in the United States without legal status, Americans, non-Americans, people who support legalized abortion, people who oppose legalized abortion, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, people who identify as a member of any other religion, people who identify as non-religious, people who take no stance on religious belief, people who believe climate change is caused by humans, people who don’t, people who believe in evolution, people who believe in a literal reading of the creation stories in Genesis, and anyone else I might have left off this list.

That list includes you. It may also include people whose beliefs make you uncomfortable.

The only requirement for participating in the community is a commitment to treat everyone, regardless of their opinions, with respect.

Let’s choose to be better than this

I have personal beliefs on many hot-button issues. Sometimes I express them in commentaries. Deeper than any of my personal views, however, is this core truth: that collectively we are more capable of forging a productive path than any one person, including me, could find on our own.

As long as you’re willing to treat others with respect, avoid personal attacks and name-calling, and seek to build understanding, you’re welcome in the community. Debate vigorously, but do it with respect and in a spirit of understanding.

If that’s not what you’re looking for, there are lots of other communities on the Internet with different dynamics and rules.

I’m not building a community that contributes to hatred and division. We must choose the opposite if we’re to find a way out of this mess. I really believe the way we interact online — which is increasingly becoming the primary way we engage many people in our daily lives — is that important.

I’m an optimist. In spite of how bad things are, I believe we can choose to be better than this. I’ll keep working to promote bridge-building discussion.

I hope you’ll join me in choosing to believe we can find common ground, that our differences, rather than paralyzing us, can help us find deeper truths and more productive ways forward.

This BBSNews article was syndicated from, and written by Heath Haussamen. Read the original article here.

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