Social media incivility is tearing America apart

Published 6:53 am Saturday, July 6, 2019

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Associated Press

Americans of all political persuasions agree on at least one thing: Civility in this country is definitely taking a turn for the worse.

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Instead of finding ways to discuss their political, religious and social differences, Americans are lashing out in increasingly harsh ways at those with opposing views.

The ninth annual “Civility in America” poll indicates an increased concern around the country about the way Americans interact with each other. When the poll started in 2010, 65% of respondents cited incivility as a major problem. That held steady until 2016, when the percentages started jumping higher.

Sharp political disagreements manifest themselves in often destructive ways. Poll respondents cite online bullying, violent behavior, harassment, hate crimes and discrimination.

People feel less safe in public places, and they believe incivility leads to less overall community engagement. In other words, the longer it goes unchecked, the more our nation’s social fabric frays.

Respondents, by a wide margin, blame social media, followed by the White House and politicians in general. The news media, political and social activists and Hollywood celebrities also take some blame, though to a lesser extent.

Republicans say the top three topics they avoid discussing to avoid an uncivil backlash are, in order: politics, President Donald Trump and the proposed border wall with Mexico.

Democrats cite the same topics, although Trump takes the top spot, followed by politics. Among independents, topics to be avoided are Trump and LGBTQ equality.

Americans increasingly view their workplaces as a kind of safe haven from incivility. In 2011, 43% experienced an array of unpleasant encounters in the workplace, but those percentages have steadily dropped, reaching 23% in 2019.

Warnings or disciplinary actions by workplace supervisors are cited as a big factor contributing to an improved workplace climate.

Among other efforts poll respondents agreed as needed to improve the climate for discourse:

Parents should teach civility to their children.Everyone should strive to be civil especially when others aren’t.Encourage family members, friends and coworkers to tone it down.Elect political leaders who behave in a civil way.

‘Aha!’ some readers will undoubtedly respond. Why don’t Opinion pages practice what they preach? Don’t mistake criticism and spirited debate with incivility.

Yes, we absolutely disagree with Trump — on a daily basis — and believe more elected officials, especially Republicans, should stand up to him.

Disagreeing with others is not incivility. The use of name-calling, threats, bullying language and expletives, among other forms of harsh expression, qualify as incivility. You won’t see it on most Opinion pages.

There’s nothing wrong with expressing opinions and passionately defending one’s point of view. But the nation’s survival depends on Americans finding better ways to work out their differences.

Nobody wins every argument. Sometimes, the best solution is simply agree to disagree.