Tenet the Ninth: MSU PR student Shalya Vance discusses communication in the digital age

From Shayla Vance (Springfield, MO)

In this day and age, anything you say online can be accessed by virtually anyone.  Therefore, it is important for us to maintain civility while discussing difficult topics.  Only through civil discourse can we have conversations that are productive, meaningful, and create a safe environment.  It is the goal of Be Civil, Be Heard, a non-profit organization based in Springfield, Missouri, to promote respectful discussions through its Ten Tenets of Civility:

  1. Be Attentive
  2. Acknowledge Others
  3. Be Inclusive
  4. Listen
  5. Respect Other Views
  6. Speak Out with Courage
  7. Act with Compassion
  8. Give and Accept Constructive Feedback
  9. Treat Your Environment with Respect
  10. Be Accountable

Out of all the tenets, “Treat Your Environment with Respect” is arguably the most overlooked one.  People don’t always consider the environment they are communicating in when engaging other people, especially if that environment is online.  According to the Be Civil, Be Heard website, in order to show respect for the environment, you must “show regard for nature, resources and shared spaces.”  This goes beyond simply recognizing where you are communicating and the area around you, but also how that impacts our communication.

In our digital age, the internet qualifies as both a resource and a shared space.  People use it as a primary medium for communication, especially via social media.  Since any information communicated is accessible to anyone on the planet, and any one of those people can respond immediately, the internet also becomes a virtual shared space that mimics real life public conversation.  This environment, therefore, has an effect on how we communicate. 

More importantly, it affects our ability to communicate civilly.  Oftentimes when people post to social media outlets, they say things that they normally wouldn’t if they were speaking to someone face to face.  They don’t realize that they are communicating in a shared space that includes far more people than a normal public venue.  As a result, any offensive posts reach more people and create more uncivil discourse than the author anticipated.  This is why we must be careful with the content we are distributing on social media platforms.  For the sake of human decency, for productive conversation, and for our reputations, we must maintain an understanding of our environment and respect those who are in it.