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Fri Nov 23, 2018, 11:17 AM

"The Internet Doesn't Need Civility, It Needs Ethics"



The civility debate sidesteps how false assumptions about harm online, coupled with the affordances of digital media, encourage toxicity

The Civility Trap

When used as a political rallying point, appeals to civility are often a trap, particularly when forwarded in response to critical, dissenting speech. Sidestepping the content of a critique in order to police the tone of that critique—a strategy employed with particular vigor during the Kavanaugh hearings, and which frequently factors into hand-wringing over anti-racist activism—serves to falsey equate civility with politeness, and politeness with the democratic ideal. In short: you are being civil when you don’t ruffle my feathers, which is to say, when I don’t have to hear your grievance.

Besides their tendency to be adopted as bad faith, rhetorical sleights-of-hand, calls for civility have another, perhaps more insidious, consequence: deflecting blame. It’s everybody else’s behavior, they’re the ones who need to start acting right. They’re the ones who need to control themselves. In these instances, “We need to restore civility” becomes an exercise in finger pointing. You’re the one who isn’t being civil. Indeed, the above NPR survey explicitly asked respondents to identify who was to blame for the lack of civility in Washington, with four possible choices: President Trump, Republicans in Congress, Democrats in Congress, or the media. Whose fault is it: this is how the civility question tends to be framed.

Ethics do not mean keeping your voice down. Ethics do not mean keeping feathers unruffled. Ethics mean taking full and unqualified responsibility for the things you choose to do and say.

We certainly maintain that the behavior of others can be a problem, or outright dangerous. We certainly maintain that some people need to control themselves, particularly given the increasingly glaring link between violent political rhetoric and violent action. Those who trade in antagonism, in manipulation, in symbolic violence and physical violence, warrant special, unflinching condemnation.

But few of us are truly blameless. In order to mitigate political toxicity and cultivate healthier communities, we must be willing to consider how, when, and to what effect blame whips around and points the finger squarely at our own chests.

We do this not by focusing merely on what’s civil, certainly when civility is used as a euphemism for tone-policing, or when it’s employed to pathologize and silence social justice activists (as if loudly calling out injustice and bigotry is an equivalent sin to that injustice and bigotry). We do this by focusing on what’s ethical. A more robust civility will stem from that shift in emphasis. Civility without solid ethical foundations, in contrast, will be as useful as a bandaid slapped over a broken bone.

As we conceive of them, online ethics foreground the full political, historical, and technological context of online communication; contend with the repercussions of everyday online behaviors; and avoid harming others. Ethics do not mean keeping your voice down. Ethics do not mean keeping feathers unruffled. Ethics mean taking full and unqualified responsibility for the things you choose to do and say.

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Reply "The Internet Doesn't Need Civility, It Needs Ethics" (Original post)
JHan Nov 2018 OP
Me. Nov 2018 #1

Response to JHan (Original post)

Fri Nov 23, 2018, 11:41 AM

1. KR

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