Room4Debate

Website review by
Patricia Montic..., Common Sense Media
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Iffy, uneven content limits debate site's usefulness, impact

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this website.

Violence

Some of the topics under discussion here touch on serious topics, like war and violence, which might be upsetting for some users.

Sex

There are a few articles on the site that discuss sexuality and attraction, and the image search feature contains some revealing images, especially of women, for pretty benign search terms.

Language

While the site's meant for civil discussion, some conversations stray from that guideline and verge on inappropriate.

Consumerism

Topics like fashion and entertainment get equal billing with justice and the economy, making it possible (and maybe more appealing) to dive deep into debates on pop culture as readily as politics. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Room4Debate is a site that asks users to submit their own stories and topics for debate and encourages users to comment and contribute to others' submissions. Users can create accounts for free using an email address or social media account, and all content users contribute to the site is visible publicly on the site without logging in.

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What's it about?

Room4Debate is a site for exploring, posting, and commenting on discussion-worthy topics. The site's homepage displays several recent posts from the site's "panelists," and users can explore all public posts via the site navigation at the top of the page. Select "Debates" to display a series of essays (submitted mostly by the site's creators) that explore domestic and international issues. Users can then comment on the issues raised in these essays. Choose "Discussions" to view 140-character prompts (followed by 150-character explanations) about an issue and then submit their own responses for or against that issue. Responses appear in two columns--for and against--below the topic's description. Pick "Collections" to see a series of debates and discussions related to a single topic (like Climate Change or Building a Strong Haiti), or pick "Categories" to view posts on the site by topic, like Arts, Education, Justice, or Politics.

Users can also create a free account using their email address or a social media account (Twitter, Facebook, or Google accounts all work). Users then can submit their own Debates or Discussions, tag them with a category from the pre-made list, add an image, add other tags to offer further description, and then add "panelists" for the conversation.

Is it any good?

There's some content and some debates started already on the site, but their accuracy and impact are pretty limited. There are pockets of content that are strong: there's some good content on Haiti that surfaces issues that kids might not have considered, and there are some (highly technical) questions about web development that might appeal to some more tech-minded types.

That being said, there's really not a lot here, and there aren't good safeguards in place (like dedicated moderators) to prevent debates and discussions from devolving into the same flame wars you might find in comment sections or social media elsewhere. Further, the panelists on the site's pre-made content have limited authority and don't make especially compelling arguments: few cite credible sources or offer cogent arguments, and they don't offer models that kids or adults should emulate. Additionally, the debates and discussions that include back-and-forths are a little tough to read: it's hard to tell visually which post responds to which. Further, the image search feature brings up some iffy content when you create your own debates and discussions, making this a questionable resource for the classroom. Overall, this is a great concept for a site, but look elsewhere for a rich experience to support kids' developing debating skills.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Room4Debate asks users to submit their discussion and debate topics in a very short format, no more than 140 characters. Talk about how it's helpful or not helpful to condense questions into such a short, simplified format. Does that make them easier to discuss or harder?

  • This site is full of user-generated content, which means that some posts are more reliable than others. Talk to your kids about how to identify user-generated content and how to distinguish it from more reliable sources. Talk about what makes a website trustworthy or reliable and how you can determine that by looking at it. 

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