One of the most disturbing aspects of our culture to emerge with Internet communications and social media in particular is what I call “toxic talk.” That is the tendency of a very substantial portion of the Internet sub-culture to engage in conversation that is crude, lewd, venomous, bitter and disrespectful. I’ve blogged about it repeatedly and I have been surprised that more in our society are seemingly resigned to this unpleasant manifestation of this mode of communication.
Well, I was wrong. Although there has been surprisingly little discussion about it in the media, PR circles or sociological studies, WeberShandwick has corrected this failing. They published results of a survey on Civility in America (available on their website). This is a very important study. I am absolutely thrilled with the result that shows 94% of Americans consider this incivility a problem and 65% consider it a major problem. Perhaps more significantly, the public is turning away from those places including websites and social media sites where incivility is so strong. They are also turning away from the political discussions because of this high level of incivility.
I’ve observed at first hand the incredible animosity and foul language of so many who are expressing their opinion of the Gulf spill on the spill website (www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com) and the social media sites for the spill. In presentations recently to others about the spill communications, one of the lessons learned that is shocking to some is the incredibly high volume as well as hatred so vividly displayed. This toxic talk creates an atmosphere that brings all who observe and participate in it down.
I believe we can do something about this. First, by not participating in it ourselves, committing to respectful, cultured disagreement rather than gutter language and personal attacks. Second, by turning off the radio and tv programs that specialize in the angry, excessively partisan, hate-inspired language so evident on both left and right. Third, by letting those engaging in it know that you find it offensive (prepare to be offended twice as much). Fourth, by getting involved in what I hope is a growing movement to discourage toxic talk, like that conducted by www.civilination.com.