After sifting through multiple different types of Usenet newsgroups from sports chat rooms, to adoption help newsgroups, to fakeid production groups, I ultimately decided on the alt.politics.usa.constitution.gun-rights.mbox.zip Usenet Group. Ever since the Second Amendment was written in 1791, gun rights in the United States have been a charged and dividing topic across the American population. Therefore, I chose this group because I was intrigued by how self-regulation would be present in the chat of a polarizing topic such as gun control.
The newsgroup alt.politics.us.constitution.gun-rights.mbox.zip was by far the largest file I had looked at and consisted of over 125,000 conversations. As expected, most of these files were filled with heated debates over the topic of gun rights. While some conversations were relatively civil and found academic discussions over the value of guns as a form of defense, other conversations quickly dissolved into one side calling the other “Hitler” or telling them to “Shut up”. This led me to question what drives many people to post opposing beliefs on this newsgroup, with there being such a slippery slope toward vulgar and angry hate speech.
One conversation I found fascinating was the conversation about the value of guns as a form of self-defense. The conversation was initiated by a Frenchman who respectfully and non-confrontationally introduced himself in the hopes of not triggering any anger and instead spurring an academic dialog. He begins by stating his cultural differences as a Frenchman, and his acknowledgment of potentially being unintentionally hurtful to others through his ignorance.
I found it very interesting that he started his conversation in such a manner that it seemed he anticipated backlash and hoped to cull those responses by being transparent about his intentions to learn. As his post continues he then talks about the reasoning behind his confusion, seeing guns as “Offensive Weapons” and futile attempts as a form of defense.
While there were many responses to his post, they typically varied in two ways. Either reciprocating the academic nature of his response with differing opinions based on evidence provided,
or attacking him for being French.
Unfortunately, this post and a similar post asking for the Frenchman to “Shut up” and “be removed by the postmaster” were the last posts in the thread. I anticipate that anyone interested in academic debate saw these responses and naturally decided to stop any further conversation. With respect to regulation, I wonder how, if possible, discussions are able to stay strictly academic or if most conversations dissolve into some form of personal attacks from one to another. There is such a stark contrast in responses to almost every question posed and it seems almost impossible to allow freedom of reasonable responses while simultaneously stifling the vulgar responses. I found it sad that these attacking replies were so common and ultimately scared people from posting further.