This post was almost titled “Eating Kawasaki,” but the issue extends beyond Twitter behavior and influencers. The general state of online conversation continues to devolve into a snarky, nasty tar pit, in turn impacting the outside world by destroying real relationships.
That should not be a surprise, people who exist online interact in real life. As bad manners become the norm online, they inevitably affect their real life relationships.
Civility: 1. Formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech. 2. Polite remarks used in formal conversation.
Society needs the civility movement online. Recent use of phrases like “blood libel” in speeches or outright threats to someone’s physical well being show that line after line is being crossed. Yet on the other side of the civility argument is a demand for contrarian voices to watch their “tone,” to ratchet back criticism. At their heart these cries may find their basis in a need for better manners online, or simply a desire to silence opposing views. In that sense, cries for civility represent a real danger towards freedom of speech online, a critical element of 21st century democracy as shown by recent events in the Middle East.
Printed words — the stuff of most blogs and social networks — does not convey tone as easily as sound or color. In fact, in order to convey tone a writer needs to use boldemphasized statements with punctuation that underscores emotion, or worse, use dreaded emoticons. :D
Criticism based on printed tone finds its basis in imaginative interpretation. Internal emotions and experiences cause the reader to conceptualize tone. Imagination and print have a long relationship, a primary reason why novels capture our minds and hearts. Printed words allow us to imagine the story within the context of our own lives.
Yet, when enforcing civility online citing tone often fails because it can be grounded in imagination. Offended parties and their friends raise the flag of hurt, but one is left wondering why? Did the criticism hit the mark too closely? Was the statement in opposition to the offended party’s belief system? Only in the most direct cases of threats, sexual abuse or attacks can civility be painted as a black and white issue when it comes to print tonality.
Consider that the gay rights movement is considered obscene by a vocal minority in this country. Thank God voices past and present have refused to be held back by those in power and continue their fight for gay rights — even when individuals continue to be abused and die because of their sexuality. Because some find homosexuality obscene, they will find this post and the underlying inferred belligerence to be uncivil. The continuing progress of the gay rights movement is a testimony to the very real power of free speech.
Manners: a. the prevailing customs, ways of living, and habits of a people, class, period, etc.; mores: The novels of Jane Austen are concerned with the manners of her time. b.ways of behaving with reference to polite standards; social comportment: That child has good manners.
Judith Martin, a.k.a. “Miss Manners”
Unlike tone, manners are not as subjective. Throughout the history of civilization, manners have existed. Every culture and sub-culture has its own unique customs, but there are formal guidelines available to people. In the past we had Miss Manners, and today we have How to Be a Gentleman and How to Be a Lady (hat tip: Techcocktail).
Arguments for civility based in politeness and manners have more weight. It gets back to the roots of civility, and its very meaning. Saying, “she has a right to her views, but I wish she was more polite,” holds water. Note that freedom of speech is not questioned, rather a simple request for more mindful language.
It’s ironic to see bloggers discussing the need for tone-based civility finds in the face of the 2.0 conversation revolution, which sought to free society from the shackles of formal business parlance. Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far, but you won’t see bloggers asking for more formal, polite language. That would require an admission of error, an acknowledgment that the 2.0 revolution went too far. Further, it would mean that these bloggers would have to practice what they preach and elevate their own level of “polite” civility. Teflon revolutionaries continue their course.
It’s OK to admit we are wrong. Humans err (only politicians are perfect). In this context, last Tuesday’s post title, “Kick Your Competitor’s Ass” was in poor taste. It failed to meet the standard of polite discourse this blog seeks to maintain. That doesn’t mean the message would be any different: Cries for kind agreement amongst competitors on positions make no sense. Companies should seek to best their competitors through differing views, increased value and better approaches.
Civility grounded in politeness is just another way of asking for mindful discourse while empowering the right for free speech and opposition. It may not always be met either. Freedom of speech supersedes politeness. Free speech is what differentiates open societies from totalitarian regimes like Libya, where dissidents are shot for voicing their opinions.
Let’s not use civility as a way to shut down strong, opposing views. In all aspects of life, the minority opinion should be heard and personal grievances should receive careful consideration. How many times has the rightful majority found itself wrong in the annals of history? Even the founding fathers — our first Presidents — allowed for error and corrections with a structure for constitutional amendments.
Perhaps you saw the dust-up yesterday. Peter Shankman called out my business partner Kami Huyse for a post about one of his tweets (pictured above). Kami was using it as an example to create a conversation about Internet civility… The original tweet was a demonstration. Time consumption abuse by folks who don’t value Peter’s time was used to flaunt rates and be generally flippant on Twitter.
Just an observation that Kami never pointed at Peter directly by name or link, instead using the content of the Tweet as a discussion point. While her title was sensational — I Don’t Have Time to Google You: Microfame Breeds Arrogance — I think she was making a point about mindful conversation in not calling out Peter. Then this happens:
1) Peter Shankman gets angry when he sees the post, responds by titling a second post with her name in it — An Open Letter to Kami Watson Huyse, APR — then linked to her, thus turning a conversation about one of his tweets (anonymously discussed) into a would-be blog war.
2) He also knew that doing so would put the post in search, particularly with his blog’s weight. He is a PR master (the founder of HARO), thus creating a permanent SEO “record” for Kami.
3) Peter turned the conversation about civility into a victim story about how he should get paid (“Still think it’s about me being a douche?,” asks Peter). Poor Peter. Frankly, I get the same BS where people are asking me for free work/blogs all the time. It doesn’t mean that I am entitled to drop a tweet like that and flaunt “my greatness” to my community.
4) Finally, Peter unleashed his fans on Kami, many of which seem to be unable to distinguish between the original story about civility and Peter’s spin about not getting paid. Instead they pile on hate and angst without thinking about the context of the story. Kami’s an experienced online communicator and can take the heat, but a less experienced person would be devastated.
Sorry, but this entire affair — and in particular Peter Shankman’s arrogant remarks as well as the many nastygrams from his fans — only reaffirmed Kami’s original point that the Internet breeds incivility. It also reaffirmed many, many negative feelings I haveabout personal branders. All in all, it was not a pretty day on the Internet.
Overall, I question the mindfulness of the affair. From Kami’s provocative stance to spark a conversation to pointed personality attacks from a supposed industry leader and finally, the pile-on commenting from fans, it wasn’t the most loving conversation I’ve seen.
In all activities online, I find it useful to ask myself is this about me, or about being of service to the larger community? When it is the prior it usually leads me awry. It’s ego-driven, and frankly creates personal investment that can lead to situations like the above. When I am trying to help others, it often becomes a much more mindful thing.
A good reminder as we go into the rest of the week that our tongues can be powerful weapons… Or forces for good. It’s a choice.