Twitter the place for healthy, meaningful debates? Yeah, right …

I’ve spent much of June talking on Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse about a new initiative by the Youth and Sports Ministry to develop a blueprint meant to shape the philosophy and future of Malaysian sports in the next decade.

Rather than gathering information on our spending patterns, consumption behaviours, and value systems through an intelligence network or clever algorithms used by advertisers to target their products at exactly the sort of people who might be interested, the ministry decided to engage the public through a series of public discourse and conversations until this October.

Like targeted advertising, worthy policies that make sense require a thorough understanding of the behaviours of all concerned.

If you are in Malaysia, you’ll be experiencing a lockdown. The last thing you want is your Facebook feed to be full of movie trailers or vacation options.

We need to gauge the people’s thoughts, but more importantly, we must also build a domain that facilitates debating and the contestation of ideas.

I don’t think there’s been a time when our communities are as divided as it is now. And this is all due to the absence of a public sphere – an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through those discussions and debates, influence political action.

When I was working at the Orator Foundation, I’d go for lunch on most days with two people who were big fans of Manchester United. I liked them a lot, and I think they liked me, even though I was very obviously not a fan of the Red Devils.

We talked about football, of course, and we’d argue in a good-natured way, and then we’d go back to work.

It was the same story with my dad. He didn’t like my long hair and I was not a fan of his side parting. We didn’t have similar tastes in music either.

He was certain that Axl Rose is a demon. And I thought Johann Strauss needed cheering up. We’d have lengthy debates about the economy, but we never actually fell out over any of it.

Today, though, things have changed. We can conveniently organise our lives, so we rarely encounter anyone who thinks differently. We avoid conflicts rather than resolve them through well-mannered debates.

We all follow like-minded people on Twitter and block the ones who are inconsistent with our thoughts and virtues. We have WhatsApp groups, where we share jokes we know will be deemed hilarious.

We ignore those who do not belong in our opinion bubble.

The internet was built so you could stay connected, even at four in the morning. So, it came as no surprise to my wife, when she woke up and saw me on my mobile phone at four in the morning – arguing about naturalisation in football on Twitter.

Instead of ranting on Twitter or on any other social media platform and then ‘hiding’ behind the sandbags they provide us, let’s have robust, healthy debates.

This will lead us to venture outside our opinion bubbles and allow us to listen to differing views, en route to enriching our minds.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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