Digital content curator, Tracey Todd plays a leading role at the National Institute for Civil Discourse to encourage a social media environment where US citizens can connect, have civil dialogues, and feel empowered to create outcomes from those discussions.
Q: How do you define civility at NICD?
People can have very different values and political preferences, but can still discuss these differences in a civil manner. That’s what we stand for at the National Institute for Civil Discourse.
You don’t have to eliminate passion to have respectful dialogue. Civil discourse does not mean that your dialogue has to be divorced of passion or that civility is removed from enthusiasm in some way but rather it is a means of interacting respectfully and saying that even though you may feel strongly in your beliefs, you still recognize and respect another’s right to hold a differing opinion.
Q: How would you describe the current state of incivility online and why there’s a need to #ReviveCivility?
There is a need to revive civility, conversations, and collaborations between people who have different views, beliefs, and ideologies. We may all be different from each other but we’re also all human. And we always can find some common ground.
NICD strives to build those bridges and define civil discourse. NICD’s Campaign to Revive Civility rose out of the increasing incivility online, in the media, and in our political rhetoric. We’re seeing violence and vitriol rise to new levels and it’s unsettling to imagine what the future will be like if we don’t act now.
Q: Can you elaborate on the current research that supports the importance of civility in online discourse specifically?
There is an abundance of research that identifies that incivility is a problem in the government, media, and public. And it’s a real issue when we accept that incivility is just part of everyday life.
Generation Z – that’s 15-18 years old today – experience the highest rates of incivility compared to previous generations according to a recent study from Weber Shandwick. They also point to the internet and social media as to where they are experiencing this incivility.
This is unacceptable! And this should only add only more fuel to the fire that we need to work together to find solutions to the problem. We need to lay down the groundwork for the next generations.
Q: Can you elaborate on NICD’s recent research with the Engaging News Project on the increasing incivility in online comments?
NICD collaborated with the Engaging News Project to investigate the rising incivility in online comments and discourse around political rhetoric and conversations. We looked at comments on Reddit and YouTube along with interviewing university students from around the country.
The findings were similar to the Weber Shandwick study. People regarded incivility as just a part of online discourse. They were hesitant to engage in political discourse in fear of the trolls and abuse they might be subjected to online.
This highlights a numbing to vitriol, hate speech, and disrespect online. We begin to see this reflected in face-to-face discourse, our political rhetoric, and media environment.
Q: With incivility seemingly everywhere online, what can we do to make an impactful change?
It’s important to listen and to respect different viewpoints. Because seeking to understand is the first step to being understood.
NICD recently hosted a 3-day workshop with a diverse group of in attendance including legislators, reporters, and religious leaders. We gathered to explore and agree on effective actions to reaffirm the history of upholding and protecting religious freedom.
There were many misunderstandings. But we were in a room committed to finding some common ground so we had to work out these differences. We came out with a mutual understanding for where each side was coming from and a new appreciation that we might not have had before. I’m optimistic from that experience that there is the potential to inject respect back into dialogue and the way that we communicate both in person and online.
Free Webinar on Demand
To learn more about the intersection of civility in politics, media, and online, watch our on demand webinar with NICD — Civlity Matters: Drive Positive Discourse to Build a Highly Engaged Community