During #SAChat a week or so ago, I mentioned that there needed to be a conversation about civil discourse and how to respectfully disagree in 140 characters or less. In thinking about how I would best frame civil discourse on Twitter, I realized that it’s something I often don’t engage in. it’s so easy to walk away from my computer or put my phone down when a conversation gets heated that I realized it’s a conscious choice to engage in arguments of any variety on all social media. Though it’s easy to walk away, sometimes the conversations need to happen, so I’ve begun to outline what I think are best practices for civil discourse on Twitter.
Leave the Sarcasm Out of It
I’m a smarta*s on a daily basis. I don’t get any less smarta*s-y when I’m frustrated; in fact, it gets worse. In any disagreement, starting to get smart-mouthed isn’t going to do anyone any good. This is even truer on social media. At least in a face-to-face conversation, you can see my body language and hear my inflection, likely understanding that I’m being salty. On social media, I can’t see any of those nonverbal cues, so I have no idea what might be meant as snarky versus actual frustration.
Be Wary of CAPS LOCK
I know we’ve got some serious CAPS LOCK lovers in the #sachat world—I promise, this isn’t a shot at y’all. Maybe this is more of a personal problem, but when someone replies to me with all caps, my first thought is “WHY ARE YOU YELLING?!” This social media “shouting” can take a conversation from a civil conversation to an argument in no time.
Choose Your Battles
After Floyd Mayweather won the “fight of the century,” I had some choice words about his win. A former student of mine pushed back at me, saying that we should separate his athletic prowess from his inability to keep his hands off the women in his life. We went back and forth a bit, and the conversation eventually died down, but this was one conversation I wasn’t going to just walk away from. I don’t say “Choose Your Battles” in a snotty way, I just meant that, in 140 characters, you should probably have a really good idea of the issue over which you’re arguing. You want to engage with me on the prison industrial complex, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the havoc it’s wreaking on non-white, low-income family structures? Hit me. You want to disagree over laws as they relate to ADAAA compliance? I can give you what I know from grad school and my own experience, but that’s where it ends. It doesn’t mean that are conversations that shouldn’t happen, but they’re markedly harder with a limited amount of characters.
Civil Discourse Offline=Civil Discourse Online
Some of the best personal advice I ever received from a supervisor was about learning how to argue. We were talking about her new marriage, and she attributed a lot of her happiness to the fact that she and her husband learned how to argue with one another early in their relationship. I think the same can be said for learning to civilly engage in disagreements on and offline. If we cannot engage with one another on the tough topics offline, I don’t know how we could feasibly do it online. It’s easier to learn to argue with one person (like the relationship example) than with the masses, but making a pointed effort to argue well is, in my opinion, one of the first steps of truly civil discourse.