Civility in social discourse

The blow up over Imus' idiotic remarks and a raging debate among bloggers about the need for civility online may just be the tipping point for a long overdue honest appraisal of the lack of civility in our social discourse. There is no question that over the past decade, the way we speak to each other and the language that we use has been coarsened to the point that sometimes I think we need to cover our ears. Shock jocks on the radio, the heavy use of profanity online, and a general lack of respect for viewpoints that differ from our own has made talking about issues difficult, if not painful.

The online debate focuses on the tendency of some bloggers and those that comment on blog articles to engage in what can only be described as childish diatribes, ad hominem attacks, and often just plain incoherent rants.

How did we get this way? It is not just the Internet--it is just as easy to be civil online as uncivil, so let's not shoot the messenger. But writing anonymously does seem to loosen our social inhibitions. Even if someone is posting a comment with their real name, in an online universe of a billion people, most of whom will never meet you, it is much the same as being anonymous. Somehow we have to pull ourselves back from the brink.

As always, it's not about the technology, it's about helping people learn to use it--respectfully and thoughtfully.

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