The lengths to which people will go to 'win' an argument can be truly frightening. Ego and self-preservation often prevail over honesty and common sense, as we fight to be right.
An Oxford Union debate about the comparative merits of socialism and capitalism provides one example. The eloquent Daniel Hannan descended into an emotional outburst, waxing lyrical about the wonderful freedoms of capitalism. Jeremy Corbyn, arguing on behalf of socialism, used China as a positive example of state ownership and nationalisation, ignoring the devastating authoritarianism of the country's political leadership.
Even in debates of a high intellectual standard, the desire to be right gives way to blind spots.
But when the debate is totally unregulated and takes place on the internet, the errors of reason are far worse. A while back I joined 'Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party Forum' - I'm hesitant to say I support Corbyn but I am a Labour voter so I thought the group would be relevant to me nonetheless.
I never bothered posting in the group, but from reading various 'debates' I realised the group didn't exist to facilitate meaningful discussions or activism. By its very nature, it couldn't do this.
The group, aptly sitting in the category of 'support', is the perfect echo chamber. By default of its name, members are safe to express their left wing views - no matter how right or wrong - and expect at most marginal opposition; opposition not to ideology, but to finer points subject to negotiation.
The 'debate' might be, for example: ways to nationalise all industries and drive out privatisation. Member X suggests buying out all major companies and gradually absorbing the smaller ones, while member Y suggests eyewatering regulation designed to destroy companies' profits - they both want the same thing.
This is the amount of disagreement that members can stomach. And so they gleefully post articles or comments, ranging from well-reasoned to completely nutty, knowing that they are protected from the ideological minefield of the wider Facebook community.
I decided to leave the group, but I also wanted to make my concerns clear to the other members. I wrote a post expressing the points outlined above, hoping it might cause a few people to question the forum and its real purpose.
But, alas, after clicking send I discovered the true extent of the echo chamber, ironically proving myself 'right'. It turned out my post had to be approved by the admin before it could be published, and surprise surprise, they haven’t approved it (yet).
It's deeply concerning to me that Facebook enables people to become censors of legitimate free speech.
While I don't agree that sunlight is always the best disinfectant - hate speech is better left to rot in the dark - it surely is more desirable than wilful ignorance.