After the rancor, insult, character assassination, slander, defamation, vituperation, and downright meanness associated with the Republican primary and runoff campaigns of Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel for the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi — much of it thanks to multi-million-dollar media blitzes by outside interest groups — we all welcome the breather before things crank up again for the general election later this year.
Monitoring a Twitter feed for returns election evening, I was impressed anew, sadly, at how thin the veneer of civility, manners, and respect has become.
As comment after comment scrolled by, hundreds in the space of the couple of hours I watched until a winner was declared, there were some of the most scurrilous, vulgar, scathingly hateful posts imaginable about the two men — worse than stuff you’d see scrawled on the wall in a seedy convenience store restroom. Some of the vilest were by women posters, complete with their photos yet, as if a badge of pride in their crudeness.
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Almost none had anything positive, kind, or thoughtful to say about either of the men, what they’ve accomplished in their careers, what they’ve meant to their communities, their state, their nation — just a lot of mean-spirited invective.
The election night Twitter feed was, alas, a microcosm of the proliferation of incivility and decline of manners/respect that have occurred as the Internet has become a part of everyday life. The anonymity of screen names and the almost complete absence of monitoring of posts on websites and social media venues have spawned a Wild West, anything-goes arena in which people can write anything — however derogatory or vile — with no consequences.
Often as not, posts have nothing to do with the website’s topic or interest. Whether a financial website, medical, automotive, you-name-it, the posts are laced with vulgarities and crude insults directed at other posters.
In a Weber Shandwick, Powell Tate, KRC Research study, Civility in America 2013, Pam Jenkins, president of Powell Tate, noted, “Incivility is turning into a national epidemic. When 7 of 10 citizens report that incivility has reached crisis proportions in this country, you know that we need new solutions and greater leadership accountability.”
The belief that incivility in America has risen to crisis levels “is held regardless of age, gender, political party affiliation, or U.S. geographical region. Even more alarming is that 81 percent believe uncivil behavior is leading to an increase in violence.”
Some 70 percent of respondents said they believe the Internet encourages uncivil behavior. It also has given rise to cyber-bullying, particularly in the school age group.
When asked to define civility, respondents most frequently answered with variations of, “Treat others with respect.”