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A study on Skype Chat as a tool for

Public Discourse

Picture courtesy androidcentral

by Groundviews

- on 11/19/2015
Recently, Skype launched its new public group chat tool, which allowed
even those who werent registered Skype users to chat with others, and for
free. Around the same time, a protest held by Higher National Diploma
students for accountancy was violently disrupted by police (read In the
Name of Assaulted HND Students by Kusal Perera), with the latter using tear
gas and batons to subdue students.
In light of the violent clampdown, and the issues that governed the
protest,Groundviews attempted to use the Skype public chat tool in an
attempt to encourage public discourse on the issue.
After framing the discussion on social media, Groundviews invited people to

join the chat. Some useful and insightful comments were shared,
particularly on the debate as to whether private universities should be
given space to open in Sri Lanka, which has perennially been the core of
many state university student protesters complaints.
Private medical student Pamu, who is studying overseas posted this
comment:

Well known blogger Yudhanjaya Wijeratne meanwhile also spoke in favour


of private universities providing healthy competition.
Realistically, you cannot provide everyone with free education unless you
have very high taxes like Sweden does, he said.
Nobody here wants to pay that much tax. So until we actually have that
kind of money AND uni capacity, the majority of A/L students are not going
to get into public uni. Their only option is private. What the state sector

seems to want is a monopoly on education. Thats just wrong.


Yudhanjaya went on to add that it was a case of the boy crying wolf with
legitimate issues getting lost as people protest for practically everything.
User B on the other hand sympathized with the protesters:

Others sympathised with the students cause but were more irate that they
were causing disruption to daily life. Balachandran, for instance, said
I totally agree with point that it is their right to fight, but not at the
expense of others. They could have had a peaceful protest without blocking
the main roads in Colombo. They could have used the pavements to stand
and shout not in the middle of the road. My right to stretch my hands ends
at the point of the other persons nose.
Some also shared useful case studies, such as Rameshkumar who spoke
about Indias problems in regulating private medical colleges, drawing
parallels with Sri Lankas SAITM. Harmut Winkels meanwhile spoke about

Chile and the many student protests there demanding for free education.

User Shermal suggested getting a ruling from Supreme Court on the issue,
and User B rebutted saying that the students causes were not being taken
up by mainstream media:
Shermal, how can the people be made aware when the mainstream
media (that reaches the majority) is opposed to the demands of those
affected. Media awareness is also only raised when the affected take to the

streets. Have we seen mainstream media (or social media for that matter)
initiating any discussion on the plight of the affected? So, what other
option for the affected to grab the attention of the media and the public
than civil disobedience?
Not entirely unexpectedly, the conversation was after a few days derailed
by spam and trolls using pseudonymous accounts who collectively brought
the discourse to a standstill.
The Skype conversation was set up as an experiment to see to what degree
and for how long an open, un-moderated conversation could take place on
a contentious issue. The answer, as we discovered, was not very long. The
impact of trolls is significant the inclusion of expletives, pornographic links
and inflammatory content serves to jar the existing community and repel
new voices from joining in. Although measures were taken to rid the
conversation of trolls once Groundviews was alerted to the fact they had
entered the forum, the damage was done.
Skypes public conversations dont allow moderators to delete comments,
and there are at present no easy tools to block trolls and spambots. Since it
was important for new members joining in the public chat to see what was
discussed and debated earlier, chat history was enabled. This also played
into the hands of the trolls, since their content during the short period
they were active overwhelmed the content posted on the chat earlier.
Especially on the mobile versions of Skype (using the app), the content
generated by the trolls took a while to scroll through and posed a massive
deterrent to existing and new entrants to the conversation from engaging
further.
While the promise of technology let us down in this instance, the Skype

chat was nevertheless an interesting experiment in generating discussion


around the issue of tertiary education and Police violence, with several
people trading insightful views in a respectful manner before the chat was
disrupted. Groundviews will continue to pursue ways through which more
broader social discussion can occur in response to socio-political issues we
think merit enduring scrutiny, and indeed, meaningful redress.
Posted by Thavam