Formerly SpringBlog

Monday, March 14, 2011

Following the Rules

While reading Chapter 2 in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, I was struck by his comment about the problems that are created by conversation via social tools. He states, “Conversation creates more of a sense of community than sharing does, but it also introduces new problems. It is famously difficult to keep online conversations from devolving into either name-calling or blather, much less to keep them on topic.”

Libel. Humiliation. Insults. Anger. These can all be considered “problems.” How do we balance and encourage social media discourse and the need for civility? Whether it is a young teenager being humiliated online due to an unfortunate lapse in her own judgment (StollenSidekick) or a politician being wrongfully accused of something (Twitter Libel Claim Bests UK Politician), the lack of restraint by some individuals is causing problems for others.

If you have ever read George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, you know that times have changed. Included in those rules of etiquette are to speak no evil, use discretion when speaking, and speak no injurious words. In today’s online world, the focus on polite conversation is often hard to find. Rather, online discourse often tends to focus on people’s self-interests. Too often that self-interest comes with a lack of manners and a lack of respect for others.

Shirky also states, “for any group determined to maintain a set of communal standards some mechanism of enforcement must exist.” One online community ( has recently begun to enforce discussion rules. As of March 2, 2011, they began to “more aggressively moderate the user comments that appear on the site.” Their NPR Community Discussion Rules are aimed at providing the “civil conversation” that its members value. Why now? It seems that recently there has been, along with a rise in spam-filled comments, “a significant increase in comments from some individuals who participate simply to anger or insult other community members.”

This is unfortunate.


  1. Recently, I have been doing some teaching in the Anderson Community Schools. For our curriculum, my co-teacher and I created a whole unit about informational texts centralizing around the Internet. As a part of our unit, we were able to incorporate some of the knowledge that we had acquired from this class as well as to incorporate other more student-centered aspects.

    Prior to teaching, our teacher asked that we might focus on some of the real-world problems that students face in regards to the Internet: cyberbullying, sexting, privacy issues, etc. At first, my partner and I were a little lenient to bring up some of these issues in fear that the students might not take it seriously, but our fears have since subsided. The students, so far, have loved it! They find it applicable to their lives and have really been called upon to think about some of the issues.

    In regards to Laura's post, I do think that there are problems such as those previously mentioned that arise with Internet usage. But I also think that there are ways of addressing these issues by making students aware that these issues exist and by talking about how to handle them. In our unit, we incorporated the government's pitch called "OnGuard Online." It really is a great sight that helps parents/teachers talk to their kids about these issues. I encourage you guys to check it out.

  2. I wasn't aware of OnGuard Online, so I decided to check it out. It looks like a great site, covering topics such as scams, security, privacy, and so on, but I was not able to find any information about civility. While it is imperative that we teach our students and our children about all of these online issues, we also need to teach them manners.

    My husband's monthly AARP Bulletin arrived in the mail yesterday. On page 4, there is a poll on "Civility in America." Two questions caught my eye. First, "Do you think Americans are civil to each other?" 69% of adults ages 18-49 answered Yes. 73% of adults ages 50+ answered Yes. These are pretty high percentages, but there's definitely room for improvement. The second question that caught my eye was "Do the following have a positive influence on civility?" The list included music, politicians, cable TV, schools, cellphones, talk radio, and social media. Only 46% of adults ages 18-49 and only 37% of adults ages 50+ believe that social media has a positive influence on civility.

    So with "name-calling and blather" being problems that Shirky mentions in Chapter 2, and with social media being so prevalent in so many people's lives, it's becoming more important for everyone to think about what they're reading and contributing online. We know the Internet and social media have an influence, so we should do what we can to make it a positive influence.