Wednesday, January 22, 2014

3 Steps to Being Civil on Twitter: It's OK to Block the Trolls!

Is there anyone like myself who sometimes feels just a twinge of guilt when blocking the latest troll that responds to your tweet? Part of me believes that in the interest of fairness I should hear what they have to say; that it's OK for someone to disagree. But a bigger part of me wants to draw the line. Often these "trolls" as they are called do not really add anything to the discussion or conversation; they simply engage in name calling and derogatory language. They aren't interested in exchanging ideas. They are only interested in promoting their "rightness" or righteousness.

One of the biggest problems we have as a society today is the lack of civil discourse. I know, I have been guilty from time to time too, of letting my passion for what I believe in get in the way of engaging in a productive conversation. Taming that passion is hard, especially when you believe in something so completely. Yet, when those passions rule, we end up with virtual Twitter Town-Hall Meetings where no one is doing anything but yelling at each other. That is often the result of those exchanges with those trolling Twitter and looking for a fight to pick. So why do we continue to engage in them?

We need civil discourse more than ever because of the major issues we face: climate change, depletion of natural resources, pollution, and a host of problems bearing down on us globally. Yes, I am well aware that there are those who are unable, incapable, or unwilling to engage in a civil conversation about these issues. There are even those working hard to deny that these are really problems and that they even exist.Yet, that does not mean we can't work to foster an atmosphere where civil discourse can happen, even on Twitter? As a Twitter user, here's some of the measures I plan to take to do my part.

1. Before I Tweet, I will reflect just a moment and ask, "Is what I'm tweeting about people or about ideas? Is it helpful discourse or harmful?" I can disagree with Arne Duncan and Pearson about the direction public education is taking. I can even criticize what looks to be an agenda of corporatizing public education, but what I need to refrain from doing is attacking the person. We can be miles apart from someone philosophically and not see them as an enemy. We need not be guilty of being so attached to our desire to be right that we belittle others. Reflect then Tweet is pretty solid advice.

2. Block the trolls and those who do not engage civilly. I give myself permission without remorse to block those who break into the conversation with name-calling and personal attacks. Calling someone a "loon" or otherwise belittling them is not fitting discourse, and we need to give ourselves permission to walk away. If such people want to be heard, let's engage in discourse about ideas, not personalities. In the future, I give myself permission to block those who do not engage in conversation civilly. As a society, those with rigid mindsets and strongly attached to being right are not subject to being convinced by argument any way, so why engage them?

3. I must always remember no one really owns an idea, opinion or perspective. We become so attached to our perspective, we scream to the word "it's mine" when we approach discourse with a rigid mind. In reality, an idea or opinion is just that. Being open-minded means being flexible and open to the real possibility that we might be wrong. This is sometimes so difficult for me personally. I want to be right so I work hard to make it so, but where things go wrong is when being right become more important than the truth. Also, things go wrong when being right means more than being compassionate to the people around us. As I engage in online discourse through Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere may I remember that being open-minded, being compassionate is more important than being right.

We don't have to allow those wanting to turn the Web into a Townhall where people shout at each so loudly neither side is hearing the other to do that. It's perfectly OK to "block the trolls" and refuse to engage in conversations with those not willing to be civil in their discourse, but we also must be aware of when we ourselves slide into that mode too.

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