Discussion Guidelines - Please Read
Here on Over 50's Forum you'll have noticed that we frequently give serious and controversial topics a good airing! Usually these take place in the Discussions forum, though they can sometimes be found in other sections too. These are the topics about which people often hold very passionate and diametrically opposed views. On the internet, that can sometimes be a recipe for disaster! So to help keep things civil and good-natured, we have drawn up a series of guidelines which we expect all participants of serious topics to abide by.
If you would like to comment on any of these, please get in touch via the contact us sections on the forum.
1. Do not abuse members.
As the cliché goes, attack the ball, not the player. When someone gives an opinion about which you feel strongly, you may deconstruct it, dissect it and even disparage and denounce it, but do not under any circumstances denounce them personally for holding it. Being rude to the individual is only ever going to make it harder to continue the debate constructively. Rudeness, by the way, isn't just confined to overt insults or name-calling - it also includes addressing another member in a sanctimonious or pompous way. You might think writing in such a way helps to make you sound authoritative and convince someone that what you're saying is correct, but trust us, it achieves the precise opposite - it actually makes you appear insecure and makes it less likely that the other person will concede their point. Keeping people "on side" when you debate with them is the number one way to educate and change someone's mind. And that, after all, is what online debate should be about. If you ever reach a point in a debate where this has been surpassed by a determination "not let them get away with it" - take a step back, because you have lost sight of the aim of a debate. So... keep it civil, people!
2. Try to see it with their eyes.
If you are dumbfounded by someone's expressed opinion, step back and remember that everyone's opinions have developed in different ways. Perhaps the other person lacks the very particular experiences that you have been through. Or perhaps you are fortunate (or unfortunate) to have never experienced what they've been through. Sometimes, it's true that your debating opponent might simply be ill-informed or less able to reason using sound logical arguments. Other times, it might be you who is struggling the most in those areas. Don't ever let pride stop you from admitting your own limitations. It's all about learning at the end of the day. Also, be big enough and self-aware enough to constantly question yourself.
3. Do not misrepresent someone.
Misrepresenting another poster might be deliberate, accidental, or if you're just feeling mischievous, somewhere in between. Either way, don't do it. It just leads to a waste of time and energy spent defending what shouldn't have needed defending - a waste of your time and theirs. Do not lie about someone's position. If you want to refer to what someone has written, use the quote button. If their post is ambiguous and you interpret it one way and they insist it means something else, give them the benefit of the doubt. Do not assume or prematurely judge another member. (Cliché alert number two: assume only makes an 'ass' of 'u' and 'me'.) If they never categorically said it, or if their post was ambiguous or unclear, ask for clarification, rather than latching onto the worst possible interpretation just so that you can boost your sense of righteousness.
4. Stay on topic.
Where there is disagreement, try to keep the focus on the precise point of disagreement rather than branching out or going off on a tangent. While the odd aside is acceptable, a discussion thread should have one overarching theme, even if that theme is wide-ranging. Where necessary, off-topic posts may be removed by a moderator to keep the thread on track. Keeping a thread relevant usually makes for a more productive conversation.
5. Try to be clear.
Keep in mind that you may be misunderstood. Online debates often require more thought in how you express yourself, because other participants don't have the benefit of seeing your facial expression or hearing your voice. Sarcasm and humour don't always translate well on the internet, no matter how many smilies are added! Some people may interpret your post in a way that you didn't intend. If this happens, apologise for not being clear enough and try to elaborate, keeping a reasonable tone, even if the person who misinterpreted you was less than courteous in the first instance. It will make you come across as the bigger person.
6. Back up your claims.
If you are claiming something that is likely to be disputed, then where possible, link to sources to back up your claim. It may not represent the absolute 100% definitive proof (it may be just one study, for instance) but it will at least add some credence to your point, and help move the debate forward. In general, the stronger or more controversial the claim, the greater the required evidence to back it up.
7. Stay within the law!
Do not make any allegations against another member, or against any other individual, business or organisation that you cannot definitively back up with proof. Don't write anything potentially libellous or defamatory, and do not post anything in potential breach of copyright. Freedom of expression requires responsibility. Also bear in mind that attacking someone for something about which they had no control (age, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability) is not only against our posting guidelines, it's also just plain stupid.
In short, robust debate is welcomed, but keep arguments focused and constructive, and never resort to personal abuse or smear tactics. Think before posting, consider your impact on others when participating in the thread, and remember the point of a debate is to make progress, whether that is educating someone else, or learning from them and seeing things from a different perspective.