Some of the most reasonable, polite discourse on the Internet takes place in two-person podcasts. If you have listened to a conversation between a guest and Russ Roberts on econtalk, or Robert Wright on The Wright Show, or Glenn Loury on The Glenn Show, or Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying on Darkhorse podcast, then you know what I am talking about. The popularity of these programs is proof that conversation can be entertaining without being rude.
I doubt that this is coincidental. I think that having a single person “in the room” leads to better behavior than tweeting to an anonymous group of followers. The presence of the other person leads one unconsciously to interact with a reasonable human being in a tone of mutual respect.
This leads to my idea for making Twitter less rude. Have each Twitter user designate a buddy to whom your tweets are directed. If my hypothesis is correct, then simply having a single person in mind who you respect would temper your rudeness as you tweet. And if enough people on Twitter temper their rudeness, then good manners would replace bullying and put-downs as social norms.
I know that there are people who are determined to be rude no matter what. Such people will avoid or abuse any system intended to reduce rudeness. A buddy system is no exception. But I speculate that a buddy system could tip norms in a polite direction.
Under a buddy system, although your tweet would be visible to all of your followers, it would be labeled as being for your designated buddy. That would remind you to think of your buddy as you compose your tweet. I suspect that the mere thought of another reasonable person would put you in a frame of mind to tweet more politely.
In a somewhat stronger version of the system, a tweet would not become visible until your buddy approved it. That way, your buddy could talk you down from making an angry tweet about something or someone not worth taking the trouble to respond to. Your buddy could steer you away from taking the least charitable view of someone with whom you disagree.
In an even stronger version, if A chooses B as a buddy, then B can not choose A as a buddy. That way, you cannot create a two-person agreement to just let each other’s nastiest tweets slide.
I must repeat that people who are determined to be rude can always do so. My hope is that most people would prefer polite discourse. All they need are some mechanisms to shift social norms in that direction.