Civility, Trolls, and Politics - Oh, My!
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Both of my Twitter followers know I've been musing over this topic for
a few days. I think it all gelled last night when I sat down to watch
Craig Ferguson's one-on-one interview with the ever-charming and always
erudite Stephen Fry.
Mr. Fry is an interesting study in contrasts. He is, as he noted,
practically "made of tweed," and yet he embraces new technology with a
cheerful optimism. His musings on trolling and incivility online were
cut short by the dreaded commercial break, but he did seem to note that
it's a small price to pay for the openness, the freedom to express
one's opinion unfettered.
I write as one who has been accused many times over the years of being
the "civility police" and of using "censorship" to moderate bulletin
board discussions. (Hint: It's not censorship to enforce the terms of
service one agrees to when they sign up to post.)
One thing that frustrates me to know end (I'll admit it) is how a rumor
grabs hold and refuses to let go even when it has been refuted. It's
human nature, I suppose. We believe what we want to believe, and we'll
defend out beliefs until the very end.
It seems that politics has become the battleground on the Internet.
Loyal voters are now taking care of the "dirty work" of attacking
political opponents. All it seems a politician has to do is toss a
tidbit out on their web site and the faithful take it from there,
spreading the word to chat rooms, Facebook, newspaper blogs, anywhere
they might be allowed to present their opinion. I'm not accusing any
politician of wrongdoing, but what happens if they discover they were
mistaken in the tidbit they tossed out or if their supporters
completely misunderstood? (Again, people believe what they want to
The local political kerfuffle that has me somewhat flummoxed at present is the
Republican politician who - gasp! - voted in the Democratic primary in
2008. Republican loyalists seem to have conveniently forgotten that a
number of their party members crossed lines to vote for Hillary Clinton
in what was dubbed "Operation Chaos." In fact, it was downright
fashionable to do so and seen as support for John McCain. That seeming
contradiction makes sense when you realize that Texas was one of the
last states to hold a primary. The Republican nomination was locked up
for McCain, but Clinton and Obama were still waging a close race for
the Democratic nomination. Republicans figured (and I don't think
they'd have been wrong) that Clinton would be an easier candidate for
McCain to defeat in the election, so there was a movement afoot to get
Republicans to cross party lines and vote. We're a caucus state, so a
number of Republicans showed up to sign the sheet in support of
Two years ago, this was considered fair politics. Now it's enough to
vilify a candidate. Of course, the story that gets spread is that the
candidate in question voted for a yellow dog Democrat, and
conveniently sidesteps the fact that he did it for Republican ends.
Politics just gets curiouser and curiouser.
And what does this have to with civility? A discussion thread including
that topic on a local newspaper blog devolved into unacceptable
language. Call me the Civility Police, but when someone calls the
female candidate a "female dog" (their words) and uses the word "vomit"
in the same sentence, it is a post clearly meant to provoke a negative
response rather than contribute to the conversation. When someone took
offense at my taking offense, I pointed out that I'd be just as
offended if someone has used "illegitimate male child" to describe a
Politics gets people passionate, and that's a good thing. Our country
was founded on that very passion. However, when rational discourse
sinks to unsubstantiated "he said, she said" arguments and we accept
vulgar speech in place of substance, we are chipping away at those very
foundations of free speech.
Why? Because the only speech left will be the shouters, those who monger fear and hate in place of reason.
I challenge you - Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative,
independent, moderate - to stand up for rational, reasoned discourse.
Let's show the world that it's possible to disagree without virtually
beating each other up.
Here's our slogan: "Strike a blow for civility!"
What good is civility if not tempted with a gentle sense of humor, eh?
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