Threats to Civil Discourse Online

It feels like the quality of discourse in the United States, and many other countries, gets worse every single day. Especially political discourse. But in online community settings, it is possible to identify the the threads to civil discourse and neutralize them.

The National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) gives tools and tactics to elected officials, the media and the public, in an effort to help everyone engage in a more civil way. NICD director of social media Tracey Todd joins the show to discuss a series of common threats to civil discourse, and how we might approach them. Plus:

  • The impact of Donald Trump on discourse
  • Has civility become a buzzword used by those who aren’t actually civil?
  • Where Tracey finds optimism in discourse right now

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Big Quotes

“What we saw, with the implementation of the 24 hour news cycle, was this ravenous need for information at all periods. Which then, in turn, makes certain items pressing news that ordinarily wouldn’t have become top news in previous years. … I think that has added to the vitriol because there’s so much information. There are so many voices, and we have a number of people who are appealing to their baser instincts to really cut through the traffic.” -@TraceyTodd

“We’re seeing hate actually be validated from the highest office in the country, so I think we sit at a very dangerous juncture in our country and in our dialogue.” -@TraceyTodd

“Facebook is a news provider. Twitter is a news provider. Snapchat is a news provider. There’s a responsibility there in the messages that are spread using those platforms.” -@TraceyTodd

“I think we’ve seen civility utilized in ways where, whenever it’s convenient for a political side, that’s who will be the champion of civility. Which I think is really dangerous, because that’s a hollow civility. That’s not really civility. It’s really that you want to quiet the other side.” -@TraceyTodd

“I think there has to be a re-acknowledgement of the fact that a fact is a fact. Two plus two always equals four. There’s not a contention as to what that is. But I think now everything has become so malleable to where we think anything is subjective, and it’s open to interpretation, when it just isn’t the case. We also have to look at these groups that are utilizing [the perceived] amorphousness of information to spread their agenda. What is the ultimate goal of misinformation and disseminating information that will be less than true? There has to be some ambition behind that.” -@TraceyTodd

“Likes and those sort of approval markers have become the currency for everything from advertisers to your self-esteem for today, so you’re having people doing whatever it takes to receive those individual approval markers and whatever it takes to stand out is often appealing to more base instincts or unsavory things because it goes back to ‘If it bleeds, it leads,’ which is essentially saying sensationalism wins out every time.” -@TraceyTodd

“When you value something, you’re less likely to try to ruin it.” -@patrickokeefe

“I think the incivility is the symptom of the larger sickness, which is economic uncertainty and political anonymity, where people feel anonymous to these politicians that they’ve voted in to represent them. I think those are the core issues that fuel the incivility, the vitriol, the hate, the harassment.” -@TraceyTodd

“It’s always a mistake when companies that deal with user generated content of any kind don’t prioritize policies and enforcement of those policies early on. When they try to do it later, it is so much more difficult because the culture and the expectations have already been set. Frankly, some platforms have only themselves to blame and perhaps even selfishly so. Like the reason some of them don’t prioritize these issues is because they want to get as much traffic as quickly as they can, and they see community standards as a hindrance to that because it leads to them turning some people away. And then when they make their money and they want to be respectable, they try to change and it’s a nightmare.” -@patrickokeefe

About Tracey Todd

Tracey Todd plays a leading role at the National Institute for Civil Discourse to encourage a social media environment where Americans can not only connect and have civil dialogues about the issues facing the nation but also feel connected to creating outcomes from those discussions.

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