Jay Howard talks about Internet Civility

The Internet, Civility, and Democracy
 
Dunbar's number is 150. That's the theoretical maximum number of active social relationships a person can have at any one time. But if that's so, what does it mean for me to have 1,293 facebook friends?
 
The internet has connected us in ways we don't yet know how to be connected, like a yoga move that bends us in ways we don't know how to bend. The internet is connecting the world and is thereby forcing us to confront the fact that other people, who think and live differently that we do, exist. So what do we do?
 
Unfriend.
 
Facebook's algorithms show us what we want to see. This technology is helpful in some cases, like the music website Pandora. I can thumb up a few songs, and pretty soon Pandora knows my music taste better than I do. But Facebook is more than music. It's people. It's a platform on which people are living more and more of their lives. When my window to the world only shows me what I want to see, that creates a number of problems. 
 
When we never come into contact with people who are different from us, we forget they're there. At best, we lose touch. At worst, we depersonalize and dehumanize. Sometimes I wonder: If people ceased to exist when we unfriended them, would that stop us from unfriending them? 
 
According to a 2016 poll commissioned by Allegheny College (conducted by Zogby and cited by the Associated Press) only 56 percent of people believe elected officials should pursue friendships with members of other parties. That's down from 85 percent in 2010.
 
This is a problem bigger than politics. How is it possible that citizens of a vibrant, diverse democracy think it is NOT good for their leaders to have friendships with people who are different? How are we supposed to stay vibrant? Our democratic way of life can't exist if we close ourselves off to our fellow citizens, because we can't govern ourselves if we can't compromise, and we can’t compromise if we’re closed off. Yet we endorse this very attitude when we unfriend someone for posting something that rubbed us the wrong way.
 
I’m grateful for organizations like Be Civil Be Heard, which has existed since 2010, because they help us combat the temptation to close ourselves off. BCBH is one of an ever growing number of organizations that exist to promote free and open civil civic dialogue. (For example, the AP article cited earlier mentions the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona, and the American Democracy Project at Middle Tennessee State University, among others.)
 
The example these organizations set for us is important, because our citizenship duties demand more of us than simply unfriending people with whom we disagree. And when we communicate with people with whom we disagree, our duty calls for civility, not hostility. 
 
In order for people to learn how to communicate in this way, we need to see it modeled. That’s why BCBH is important. Civility and other necessary citizenship behaviors are modeled every day in BCBH’s mission and in the forums, debates, and events that they sponsor. Even if we know what civility looks like, we could all use a refresher from time to time. I’m glad this organization is a part of our campus community at MSU.