Speaking At UND Symposium About Online/Media Civility

university of north dakota

From May 21st through the 25th the University of North Dakota’s Conflict Resolution Center will be holding a symposium on the issue of civility in online and media discourse. I’ve been invited to speak as a part of a panel taking place at noon on Wednesday the 23rd.

You can get all the details about the event, as well as information on registering to attend, right here. It would be nice to see some of you SAB readers there.

I’m looking forward to this topic. I’ve written some in the past about the anti-bullying political fad, and I’d like to address it in a forum like this one. I worry that efforts like this are misguided, at best, or at worst an attempt to limit or control speech under the guise of civility.

In particular, there seems to be this assumption that Americans are less civil now because of the internet, but I don’t see it that way. Public discourse – particularly political discourse – has always been pretty brutal. That the internet facilitates more of it doesn’t make the discourse inherently more or less civil.

“Civility” is a subjective term, and for most people has a lot more to do with whether or not they agree with the speech in question as opposed to whether or not it’s polite or respectful.

Civility is kindergarten level stuff. We learned about civility when we learned the Golden Rule. We’re adults. We know how to be polite to one another. You wouldn’t think that this would be fodder for university-level study and discussion.

Which gets back to my original point. This isn’t so much about being polite as controlling speech. Sort of like shaping the debate over illegal immigration by trying to define the term “illegal immigrant” itself as racist.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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