The more divisive subjects such as religion, politics, race and sexual orientation are usually not discussed in any great depth on those forums, and sometimes not mentioned at all. Uplifting quotations, sometimes of a religious or spiritual nature, are often posted, and are generally popular with a large proportion of the membership. They are rarely controversial, and even the non religious members usually have no problem with the religious quotes, because the messages tend to be of a positive, non intrusive nature, and posted with the best intentions.
Frank and free discussions of very controversial subjects are not really encouraged on this group of forums, but that's fine, it's not what those forums are there for.
Other forums of a slightly more serious nature allow discussion of controversial subjects, in theory at least, provided that everyone involved in the conversations abides by similar standards of behaviour to those generally accepted in everyday life outside online forums. It's not usually a problem using language that wouldn't be acceptable in a junior school playground, but really explicit bad language is frowned on, and is likely to attract the attention and remedial action of forum moderators. Personal attacks on members tend to have the same effect, especially if it continues much beyond a brief, heated exchange of views. Discussions proceed in a reasonably peaceful way.
Forums of that type should be the ideal place to discuss serious subjects that could result in heared debate, but on the few that I have visited that fit in this group, discussions are still conducted in a rather muted way. For example, mentioning the subject of immigration always seems to attract instant accusations of racism, when the two things, while being related, are not automatically directly connected. In order to avoid causing possible offence, people tend not to raise matters of that kind, despite the fact that those matters are important issues that need to be discussed. People feel uncomfortable mentioning them, and don't want to risk rocking the boat. Frank and free discussions are not really possible on this group of forums either.
There are other forums that are totally free of rules and standards of behaviour, where anyone can say what they like, with no risk of being banned from the forum, or being hassled by moderators. Any subject, however offensive or controversial, can be discussed without restrictions being imposed by the forum management. That sounds like the ideal solution, and in theory it should be. Unfortunately, it isn't, because forums of that type attract not only people who want to have serious discussions about serious subjects, they also attract people who simply want to behave badly with no fear of recrimination.
There are those who feel the need to swear and curse in the worst language they can, simply because they can do so and nobody can complain. They are relatively harmless, because most forum members, especially on that type of forum, are adults anyway, and just ignore the cursing and swearing as rather immature actions.
Others constantly attack other people's beliefs, for example their religious views. There's nothing wrong with that. If people put forward their religious or other opinions on a forum, they invite comment, and possibly criticism of those views. That's what a forum is all about. The problem is, on forums with no rules at all, the attacks all too often quickly change from being comments directed against the opinions, to being direct, abusive personal attacks on the people holding those opinions. With no rules regarding behaviour, the forum staff, however much they might disagree with the bad behaviour, have no way to prevent it.
As a result, those having particular views, despite being perfectly entitled to air those views, because there are no rules against it, are invariably howled down by one or two small cliques of people who don't share those views, and the barrage of negative comments are in most cases personal attacks and insults aimed at the person expressing those views. The views don't actually get discussed at all, because the personal attacks divert attention away from them.
So, can you really have a serious discussion on an internet forum?
In my personal experience so far, no, you can't, but of course there are still thousands of forums I haven't yet visited. I'm sure the perfect forum is out there somewhere, but I don't know where to look for it.
Can anyone recommend a good forum, with well organised and regulated discussions on possibly controversial subjects, and no personal attacks? If so, I would like to hear about it.