Open discourse is a conversation when all possible information can be accessed by those taking part. It is also about the degree to which it is possible for any discourse to exist without controls. Open discourse is determined by a number of factors, including access and quality, as well as the genuine openness of the dialogue. Some people debate whether total open discourse is actually possible.
Discourse is the discussion of ideas. The formation of genuine dialogue, followed by the formation of consensus, is dependent on discourse. Not all discourse has the potential to become fully open; for example, rhetoric is the attempt to persuade others of one belief. This means that only one opinion is presented and listeners to not have immediate access to other opinions and details that might contradict it.
Whether discourse is open or not is dependent upon a number of factors. These include access to information, the equality of access, and the quality of the information. Access can be defined by the amount of information available to those involved or those wanting to be involved and the means by which the information is made available. Equality of access is defined as all people having the same level of access regardless of position, status, and social background.
Both access and equality of access are regulated by discourse control. Access to information is largely controlled by the people and organizations that have the information. Those controlling the information or the debate often have the control, unless government law forces them to relinquish control through the freedom of speech or the freedom of information. For example, there can be no real debate on the economy or on immigration if government withholds information.
Information requests can also be open or closed. For example, an ideologically motivated individual may take only the information that is compatible with his or her ideology, even when all information is freely available. This form of discourse control is bottom-up rather than top-down.
An open conversation also allows for the discussion of topics that many feel are unsavory or non-mainstream. For example, voicing opinions on marriage, religion, or abortion may offend some people as many hold completely different views on these topics; however, open discourse on all subjects, even tough ones, is important to keep discussions relevant. The absence of open discourse can make topics stagnant.
The Internet has opened up the access that many people have to information. Whether it truly counts as open discourse or not is open to debate, however. Taken as a whole, this openness allows for all opinions and a lot of information to be found, but each singular piece of social media or website may fail many criteria set out for open discourse. Questions also remain over the quality of information available on the Internet.
It has been argued that truly open discourse is impossible because there are too many possible filters determining what can or cannot be discussed, what information is available, the quality of the discourse, and people's access to it. According to the same trail of thought, it is also impossible to have closed discourse, the total absence of access. If both are impossible to achieve, then it suggests that all kinds of discourse are muddled somewhere in the middle.